The State Government has today published updated Impairment Assessment Guidelines, incorporating extensive community feedback on several key issues – including ensuring there is no set deduction in benefits for pre-existing injury and protecting workers’ choice of assessor.
The Return to Work Act 2014 was enacted by the former Labor government under then Minister, John Rau, with bipartisan support – and requires the Treasurer (as responsible Minister), rather than Parliament, to publish the Guidelines.
The Guidelines, which have not been updated since 2015 and require changes to reflect clinical developments and improve efficiency, fairness and transparency, are used by medical assessors to assess the whole person impairment (WPI) percentage of injured workers.
The WPI rating determines the amount of compensation an injured worker may receive.
Treasurer Rob Lucas said he has determined not to pursue changes proposed by ReturnToWorkSA (RTWSA) which for asymptomatic and pre-existing impairments would have resulted in a compulsory 1/10th deduction from a worker’s WPI rating.
Another proposed change, which would have meant only surgeons could act as an assessor following surgeries rather than other specialists such as Occupational Physicians, has also been rejected.
“In order to properly consider all of the diverse views on the Guidelines, I approved a broader consultation process than required by the legislation” said Mr Lucas.
“RTWSA’s closing date for submissions was originally set at 25 June and, subsequent to that, I engaged in further meetings and consultation for a further two-month period.
“In addition to consulting with 13 medical associations, we invited more than 120 individual accredited impairment assessors, the Law Society of SA and the Self-Insurers of SA to provide submissions.
“More than 30 of the over 70 proposed substantive changes were ultimately amended as a result of the submissions made during the initial four-week consultation period, and in the weeks after that from groups such as the Minister’s Advisory Committee, which contains members nominated by the Australian Medical Association as well as employee and employer associations.
“Ultimately, the updated Guidelines will provide greater clarity for all those involved in the worker’s compensation process, in particular workers and doctors.”
Taking into account feedback received from the medical and legal community in particular, the updated Guidelines include the following additional protections to improve fairness and transparency:
- Ensures that RTWSA cannot direct a worker to choose a particular assessor to conduct the assessment (unless the worker is unable or unwilling to do so)
- Ensures that RTWSA cannot direct an assessor to alter their clinical opinion when reviewing the assessor’s report for compliance with the Guidelines.
- Ensures that workers and their representatives are promptly provided with copies of correspondence between RTWSA and the assessor when reviewing the assessor’s report for compliance with the Guidelines.
- Ensures that RTWSA commence arrangements for the payment of an assessor’s report fee as soon as the assessor’s initial report is received.
- Ensures that a worker’s appointment with an assessor is not delayed due to long waiting lists as well as making clear that RTWSA cannot delay the booking of a worker’s appointment with an assessor (unless agreed with the worker within the six-week time frame requirement).
The updated Guidelines do not raise the 5 per cent threshold or the 30 per cent seriously injured person threshold, which are set in the Return to Work Act 2014 and cannot be undone.
A copy of the new guidelines is available in the Government Gazette.