Document

Survey Results – June 1998:

“Whistleblowers Australia Survey on Use or Abuse of Medical and Psychiatric Appointments for Addressing Workplace Whistleblowing ”

A number of people have informed Whistleblowers Australia [NSW Branch] that various Government Medical Officers (GMO) have issued ‘certificates’ of permanent ‘medical retirement’ against them, but that these ‘certificates’ appear to have been issued for questionable reasons.  They claim that these GMO ‘medical retirement’ certificates were issued in response to an organisation’s agenda rather than incapacitating sickness.  

As a significant number of people who were issued with GMO certificates for ‘medical retirement’ are actually still working in various organisations, this too raises questions as to the validity or otherwise of these certificates.  

The following information indicates that many people were unaware of the nature of the information which their employer had supplied to the GMO until it was accessed after the ‘medical retirement’ certificate was issued and acted upon.  This raises questions as to whether these decisions were made within guidelines for the application of procedural fairness.  

It is important to note that if a genuine work performance issue warranted the dismissal of these employees, the relevant Industrial Relations procedures should be followed, rather than ‘medical’ procedures.

People have stated that they were sent for ‘medical assessment’ after they had raised issues within the workplace, and that some of the issues raised were:

Object of the Survey

To establish the extent of the use of Medical and Psychiatric appointments in whistleblower cases.  This ongoing, non-random survey was commenced late 1997.

Surveys Issued: 54

Responses

The subjects who provided this information have responded to New South Wales media coverage, advertising, or other personal contact by members of Whistleblowers Australia Inc [NSW Branch].  The subjects who responded to the survey live in various states of Australia, and are or were employed under either State or Federal systems.

Total Responses to 14 June 1998: 32

Federal Employment  4
State Employment NSW 23
  Qld 1
  SA 1
  Vic 1
Unidentified 2
Approx 66% from women
Approx 33% from men

Longevity of the Issue

One of the subjects states that he was referred to the Government Medical Officer (GMO) twice.   He reported:

Twenty years ago the Government Medical Officer (GMO) issued a ‘medical retirement’ certificate against him.  He stated that he continued working (driving semis and busses, also built houses and sold them).  He was again sent to the GMO (now called HealthQuest) two years ago and was again ‘medically retired’.  Court action is now underway.

Medical Organisations Involved in this Report

Of the 32 surveys held, 23 (72%) of the subjects were referred to the NSW Government Medical Officer (GMO) which is now titled HealthQuest.  The avenue for appeal of the HealthQuest determination is NSW Health Department ’s Medical Appeals Panel (MAP).

Only the surveys of subjects who were referred to NSW GMO (HealthQuest) for assessment have been used to compile the following information.  A further report showing further aspects of the survey information should be published in the near future.

Background

Subjects who made internal complaints of malpractice within the organisation. 21 (91%)
Subjects who made external complaints about malpractice (eg to MP ’s, Ombudsman, ICAC, Audit Office, etc) 19 (83%)

Repercussions

Repercussions from lodging complaints
Beneficial to subject      2 (9%)
Adverse to subject 21 (91%)

Subjects’ Subsequent Employment Path

Subjects still employed : (a) at higher level 0 (0%)
  (b) at same level 3 (13%)
  (c) at a reduced level 2 (9%)
  (d) on paid or unpaid sick leave 4 (17%)
Subjects transferred or transferring out 3 (13%)
Subjects who were dismissed, forced to retire, stood down, or other form of constructive dismissal 11 (48%)

Workplace Treatment of Subjects

Twenty-two (96%) of the subjects stated they were subjected to adverse treatment as a result of having lodged complaints.  

Subjects identified the following adverse treatment:

Adverse treatment following complaint
Isolation 15 (65%)
Abuse/denigration 13 (57%)
Increased inspection 12 (52%)
Threats/warnings 17 (74%)
Accusations      15 (65%)
Menial duties 12 (52%)
Removal of equipment 5 (22%)
Removal/withholding of information 13 (57%)
Falsification of Information 18 (78%)
Forced psychiatric referral 20 (87%)
Other 9   (39%)

One subject did not reply to this question

Areas of Employment

Employment of subjects
Department of Education/TAFE                        13 (56%)
Department of Community Services (DOCS) 2   (9%)
Other Areas 8   (35%)

Subjects’ Sick/Stress Leave History

Average annual sick leave - Prior to the work situation    
0-5 days annually 12 (52%)
6-10 days annually 6 (26%)
Sick leave of other lengths 5 (22%)

Subjects state that sick leave was taken for a variety of reasons including injury or caring for a sick member of the family.

Documentation for Employer Initiated Medical Appointments and Subjects’ Efforts to Access Information Supplied for Assessments

Subject’s access to information supplied by the employer to HealthQuest

Information provided freely prior to the HealthQuest appointment (This subject refused to attend the HealthQuest appointment.) 1   (4%)
Information not supplied either prior to or during the assessment.   22 (96%)

Subsequent to the assessment, of these 22 subjects:

Assessment material was not provided – subjects had not known that it existed, or that they could access it 12 (54%)
Complete information was not provided although subjects had requested it 10 (46%)

Subjects state that they have used simple, then complex FOI requests to access the material at HealthQuest, but material is still withheld. For example:

(a)   Information made unreadable because of black lines drawn through text.
(b)   Document read to the subject at the assessment, but withheld under FOI.

Seventeen subjects (74%) have now accessed some information through Freedom of Information requests.  All state that the documentation misrepresented the workplace and medical situations.

The Face-to-Face 'Assessment'

Subjects who refused to attend the assessment 1 (4%)
Subjects who did not attempt to take a support person 15 (65%)
Subjects who attempted to include a support person, or record the assessment but this request was refused  7 (30%)

Union Assistance

Subjects who state that they:

Did not seek intervention from their union 2 (9%)
Sought union assistance and this was effective 4 (17%)
Contacted their union, but the union was not effective 17 (74%)

NSW Health Department’s Medical Appeals Panel (MAP)

The HealthQuest determinations can only be 'appealed' through the NSW Health Department’s Medical Appeals Panel (MAP). 

Regarding appeals lodged with the Medical Appeals Panel:

Number of subjects who state that they successfully appealed the HealthQuest determinations in the Medical Appeals Panel 0 (0%)

Subjects were asked what information they had regarding the external organisation who handles these appeals (MAP).  The subjects stated:

1          “When I asked to appear before the Medical Appeals Panel I was first told that there was no panel.  On a subsequent attempt I was told that no-one was allowed to appear before the panel ”

2          Published Industrial Relations Court Report:

       In the Matter of Ronald John Hopgood and Department of Corrective Services, Industrial Relations Commission of New South Wales, 12 January 1996, Coram: Patterson CC and referring to an appeal lodged with Medical Appeals Panel it is stated:

"Unless the Medical Appeals Panel process is merely a formality designed to give the appearance of an alternative higher unbiased opinion what other conclusion can be made than to question the integrity of such a process ". 

“...a medical panel whose composition and process was never disclosed..."  "In Mr Hopgood's case, I have formed the opinion that his case might never have been properly reviewed and I believe the Appeal process has, for him represented nothing less than a farce."