This edition was issued on 12 August 2021
Welcome to the latest edition of Personal Injury Commission News.
This special edition comes to you in the midst of the Greater Sydney and regional lockdowns as the COVID-19 crisis continues to disrupt our community. Public Health Orders designed to minimise mobility have been in place for the past seven weeks and case numbers remain stubbornly high. Our community is being significantly affected, including businesses and organisations that rely on face-to-face interactions to deliver their services. The Personal Injury Commission is no different.
Pleasingly, despite the challenges, the Commission is continuing to deliver outcomes for the injured people of NSW by continuing to dispose of the majority of its hearings and around 90% of psychiatric assessments, all of which have been able to continue via audio-visual platforms. I am appreciative of the flexibility and goodwill of the parties involved for enabling these to proceed. The Commission remains committed to adapting to the prevailing circumstances as needed while ensuring that its dispute resolution services continue.
Without doubt, however, the greatest challenge for the Commission remains in-person medical assessments and review panels that require physical examinations, which simply cannot proceed at this stage due to the prevailing public health and Local Government Area restrictions.
Each week that lockdown continues, the Commission has around 150 scheduled medical assessments that either need to be moved to audio-visual platforms or rescheduled to a point later in time when we hope restrictions will be lifted. At the same time we are receiving the same volume of new matters being filed, so in effect each week we have a combination of new and older matters that are directly impacted. Logistically this is very difficult to manage and is happening in a circumstance where we are still trying to contend with the Covid-related delays from the 2020 lockdowns.
At the end of the lockdown there will still be restrictions in place and it will remain a challenge to recommence a full suite of in-person medical assessments. Based on these unavoidable challenges, I anticipate that pandemic-related delays will continue to impact the Commission’s operations and dispute resolution timeframes for at least the next 12 months.
Minimising the impacts of the delays on injured people remains the shared responsibility of the Commission, the insurance industry and legal profession. These are shared problems which we will only get through if everybody pulls together. Generally the profession, with some notable exceptions, has been fantastic to deal with in regard to the challenges of our current situation and I am thankful for your collegiate and proactive participation to date.
I remain committed to mitigating delays wherever possible and set out below a number of strategies the Commission is embarking upon to try and contend with this challenge, but bear in mind no one solution in and of itself will solve this. I encourage you to familiarise yourself with these strategies and would welcome any suggestions you may have that could assist us in reaching outcomes for impacted litigants as soon as possible.
Please read on for more information about the Commission’s current operational changes related to the pandemic, our strategies to address delays and the role you can play in helping us minimise disruption.
We need to be very flexible and retain an ability to respond quickly as circumstances change. Plans which might work for a few weeks now might, due to the developing situation, need to be shelved.
I appreciate you working with us during these trying times to assist the passage to resolution. The current situation is tough for our whole community and we will get through it by working together and by being kind to each other.
I trust that you are keeping safe and I will be in touch with another edition of Personal Injury Commission News soon.
Judge Gerard Phillips
Current Covid Situation
Changes to the Commission’s operations in relation to Public Health Order restrictions are available to view on the Covid-19 Response page of the Commission’s website at any time.
While the Commission has quickly adapted to the changing health settings and continued providing its services, the pandemic settings continue to impact the ability for claimants to attend in-person medical assessments.
As such, medical assessments currently scheduled to take place in Greater Sydney (including the local government areas of the Central Coast, the City of Shellharbour and the City of Wollongong) and rural and regional areas subject to Public Health Order mobility restrictions between Monday 28 June – Friday 27 August 2021 will be managed in the following way:
- Assessments can be moved to videoconference where agreed to by the parties and medical assessors.
- Assessments that are not suitable to be conducted via videoconference will be rescheduled for the next available appointment from November 2021 onwards.
- When rescheduling appointments, priority will be given to those that were delayed due to the suspension of in-person appointments during the 2020 lockdowns and also in order of receipt.
- The Commission will retain appointments booked into September and October at this stage, but this will be reviewed and may change as NSW Health advice evolves.
The Commission’s team is contacting all impacted parties to manage the appointments on a case-by-case basis.
Assessments may proceed as arranged where both the claimant and the medical assessor are located in a regional or rural area that is not subject to Public Health Order mobility restrictions.
Addressing In-Person Medical Assessment Delays
The Commission is implementing multi-faceted strategies to manage and mitigate the unavoidable in-person medical assessment delays. These strategies include:
- Continuing to convert in-person appointments to audio-visual where agreed by the parties and medical assessors.
- Exploring how to resume medical assessments under continuing restrictions while abiding by Public Health Orders and keeping injured people and assessors and their staff safe.
- Increasing the volume of medical assessments available when they can resume with both the current assessor cohort and via recruitment of additional assessors.
- Identifying types of assessments that could resume sooner than others due to the risk levels associated with the nature of the physical assessment required.
- Identifying cases that could be prosecuted more quickly than others due to the nature of disputes.
- Exploring opportunities for alternative dispute resolution where it is appropriate.
- Building medical suites at the Commission’s offices where a high volume of assessments will be able to be conducted and managed by the Commission. This facility will come into operation in early 2022 (pandemic-permitting) and we will use it to immediately begin attacking the expected backlog.
- Discerning whether it might be possible to have some medical assessments conducted on the papers.
I thank the members of the Commission’s multiple reference groups for the considered and insightful suggestions they have contributed to date to the formulation of this multi-faceted approach. The Commission continues to work with these groups, the NSW Bar Association, the Law Society of NSW, SIRA and the insurance industry in order to tackle this very challenging situation.
I am confident that the combination of these strategies will mitigate delays to an extent but note that there are a large number of dispute applications that remain reliant on in-person physical examinations that will be subject to delays
Your Role in Addressing In-Person Medical Assessment Delays
I look forward to continuing to collaborate with the insurance industry and legal profession and their peak bodies, the Commission’s medical assessor cohort and SIRA, as we continue to address our shared responsibility to minimise the process trauma for the injured people impacted by the unavoidable delays.
While we continue implementing our strategies and exploring opportunities for alternative dispute resolution, there are several practical steps that parties and practitioners can take right now to help minimise delays:
- Please continue cooperating and responding to the Commission in a timely way as we seek to reschedule appointments. Thank you for your flexibility to date.
- If you represent an injured person whose medical assessment has been rescheduled or converted to videoconference, please ensure that you advise them of the changes to their appointment in a timely manner.
- Please also ensure that participants in videoconferences join their assessment from a location in compliance with the Public Health Orders.
- You are welcome to proactively identify any matters that you think are suitable for audio-visual medical assessment or early dispute resolution. If you are able to attain the consent of the other party for the claim to proceed in this way, please advise the Commission so that we can proceed on that basis, if it is procedurally possible.
Please keep these approaches top of mind when working with the Commission, your litigants and the matters in your portfolios.
Mail Arrangements While the Commission’s Offices are Closed
As the Commission’s staff are all working remotely, we discourage any physical mail at this time. Please provide any correspondence digitally via the Commission’s Portals or email email@example.com If you have an item that must be physically delivered, please call the Commission on 1800 PIC NSW (1800 742 679) to arrange.
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