Government to make announcement on ACC coverage of birth injuries after last year's perineal tear policy review

Current ACC policy is that only birth injuries sustained through a treatment injury are covered.
Current ACC policy is that only birth injuries sustained through a treatment injury are covered. Photo credit: File

By Anusha Bradley of RNZ

More birth injuries will be covered by ACC, RNZ understands.

It came as the Green Party, with strong support from the health sector, wrote an open letter to ACC Minister Carmel Sepuloni pushing for all birth injuries and traumatic births to be covered by the agency.

Under current ACC policy only birth injuries sustained through a treatment injury would be covered.

But the Government had been under pressure to make changes after RNZ revealed the number of women successfully claiming ACC cover for perineal tears had dropped dramatically following a policy review last year.

ACC would previously accept around 30 claims a month, but that dropped to fewer than four a month following the review.

Change was imminent, Sepuloni said.

"The Government has now considered the issue and will be making an announcement before the end of the month."

In the open letter Green Party Jan Logie said there was need for urgent change.

"I ask that you prioritise making change so ACC can cover all pain and suffering caused by traumatic births and birth injuries.

"Right now, most injuries caused during childbirth aren't covered by ACC, and data from ACC shows us that over the past few years it has become harder to get birth injuries covered."

Help coping with birth injuries and traumatic births was one of the "hidden needs" of new parents not being addressed, Logie wrote.

"It is completely inequitable that ACC cover is readily available for an ACL tear on the rugby field but near impossible to get for a perineal tear after giving birth."

The letter was publicly supported by many organisations including the New Zealand College of Midwives, the Māori Women's Welfare League, ACC Futures Coalition, and academics Dr Naomi Simmonds and Dr Michelle Wise.

Under the law ACC was only allowed to cover birth injuries if they were treatment injuries. Perineal tears were the most common birth injury for those giving birth vaginally, with around 85 percent of women experiencing some degree of tearing.

While all birth injuries were treated by the public health care system there were often long waits to access treatments or see a specialist. In comparison ACC cover could include access to private specialists, wage compensation, home support and counselling.

ACC reviewed its perineal tear policy in 2020 after it realised it was more generous than the law allowed, resulting in a significant drop in the number of tears being covered.

Maternity professionals consulted by ACC during the policy review of its perineal tear cover opposed any changes be made, with both the NZ College of Midwives and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists urging the agency to reconsider its position.

Birth injuries could be "debilitating" for new parents and the lack of cover was due to ACC's interpretation of the law, NZ College of Midwives chief executive Alison Eddy said.

She was pleased to hear that changes could soon be made.

"The concern for us is that these injuries are often difficult for women to deal with and help should be available to them, regardless of how they access it."

RNZ understands the expanded cover for birth injuries, which will require amendments to the existing law, was only one of several changes in the wings for ACC to be announced soon.