National

Public servant taxpayer-funded physio after more than 630 treatments

A former public servant has lost his right to continued taxpayer-funded physiotherapy sessions after more than 630 treatments at a cost of $65,000.

In a separate decision, a former Defence worker has lost a bid for taxpayer-funded zen shiatzu massage for a neck injury sustained 17 years ago. 

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal has ruled that former Australian Sports Commission bureaucrat Darryl Durham should no longer have the physio sessions for his bad back paid for by federal workplace insurer Comcare.

The decision came despite Mr Durham's lawyers arguing that without the therapy, the former public servant might have to give up work and rely on workers compensation for his income until he reached retirement age.

Comcare, which stopped paying for the physio treatment in 2013 after 17 years, says taxpayers should not be liable indefinitely for costly treatment that is not making the former public servant any better.

Mr Durham's lawyers argued that without his weekly taxpayer-funded physio sessions, Mr Durhamwould not be able to work at his new job as a sports consultant and would claim workers' compensation benefits until he turned 65, at a potential cost of $1 million.

Advertisement

The former Australian Sports Commission public servant has a serious lower-back disc injury incurred on the job in 1996 and was paid a permanent impairment lump sum by Comcare several years ago.

But the insurer continued to fund physio sessions, which were twice-weekly for some time, racking up bills of more than $65,000 and with no end in sight until Comcare cut off the treatment in December last year.

Comcare, which had expert medical opinion backing its view that Mr Durham does not need the physio to keep working, argued that it was not reasonable to ask taxpayers to keep paying for the treatment.

In its submission to the tribunal, the insurer said Mr Durham's physio regimen was not doing him much good and may have even been holding back his long-term recovery.

 "Any therapeutic benefit he received was small and short-lived," Comcarewrote.

"We accept that pain relief, even short-term relief or reduction in pain, can be therapeutic.

"In this case any benefit is outweighed by the counter-productive effect with leading the applicant to a dependent state, inhibiting his ability to learn to cope, and embark on pain management programs to assist him with that object."

Tribunal Senior Member Geri Ettinger found Mr Durham had become "habituated" to the physio after 17 years of the treatment.

"I am satisfied from the evidence of the applicant himself, and all the doctors whose evidence was before me, that there has been no consistent progressive improvement in Mr Durham's back over the last 17 years," Ms Ettinger wrote.

"He has become habituated to the physiotherapy, even though he has managed with one session or less a week since December 2013.

"In considering the application of the case, and the cost-benefit argument, I find that long term physiotherapy such as Mr Durham has had has no place."

In a separate decision, The Tribunal has backed a decision by the military compensation authority to refuse to pay for any more zen shiatzu massage for former Defence worker April Ragg.

Mrs Ragg, who hurt her neck in a roller door accident in 1996, said she needed the therapy despite it not being "solely directed to the site of the original injury".

She explained in oral evidence that the massage provided more general relief.

But the Tribunal backed the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission's view that it should not have to pay for the massage.

Advertisement