Proposed ACC changes could have major impact for birth injuries, occupational illnesses

As many as 18,000 women a year who sustain an injury during childbirth could be helped by changes to our ACC legislation announced on Tuesday.

The improvements mean birth injuries will now qualify for ACC support - but it also makes a difference for people suffering from occupational illnesses. 

It's an exciting scary and life-changing time. But for some women, childbirth injuries can mean extra stress and complications - and that's made worse when you don't qualify for ACC.

"For a small portion of women, they do need ongoing care and treatment. Until today that treatment and care had been really difficult to access," says The New Zealand College of Midwives CEO Alison Eddy.

The changes announced by Minister Carmel Sepuloni mean women who suffer injuries like prolapses, ruptures or tears can now get ACC support.

Eighty-five percent of women sustain a childbirth injury. Only a small portion are 'severe' - but it could help as many as 18,000 women a year.

"More timely access to surgeries if they're needed, to pelvic physiotherapy if that is needed," Sepuloni says.

Another part of the legislative change would have helped Christchurch firefighter Steve Tooley.

After 40 years working in toxic gas and fumes, he was diagnosed with a rare type of leukemia known as CLL.

He lodged an ACC claim but it was declined and it took the help of a lawyer to prove he was at greater risk because of his job.

"There's no way I could have done it without the Union's financial help, absolutely not. Let's just hope in future it might be a bit easier for guys that follow," Tooley says.

Today's change means it won't be up to people like Tooley to prove the link - instead, ACC will have to show that there isn't one.

But his lawyer says the burden of proof could still fall back on claimants.

"It's partly going to help us, but I think it's not quite gone far enough," Hazel Armstrong says.

That will be up for discussion when the legislation goes to Select Committee with hopes to have it passed next year.