‘They’re in denial’: MyGov users vent

Centrelink and Medicare clients from around Australia reacted with anger and disbelief after the giant Department of Human Services denied there were any problems with MyGov. Photo: Louie Douvis A screenshot of one user’s attempt to login to MyGov on a desktop.
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The Commonwealth government is “in denial” over the performance of its online service portals, with MyGov coming in for savage criticisms from frustrated users of the system.

Centrelink and Medicare clients from around Australia reacted with anger and disbelief after the giant Department of Human Services denied last week that there were any problems with MyGov.

The reactions come as a former DHS worker tells the inside story of their short stint working on the MyGov help desk before resigning in disgust at what they saw there.

The former staffer told of hopeless attempts to help people who had been locked out of the system and of various technical problems that dog the MyGov portal.

“I resigned as I felt I could not provide genuine service,” the former public servant wrote.

“In many cases I also felt I could not provide real solutions to callers’ problems.”

Users of the system reacted with disbelief to the department’s insistence last week that there were no systemic problems with MyGov.

“They are in denial,” one reader wrote.

“Once you login, throughout the system, there are messages saying some clients will not be able to access, some things cannot be done, full acknowledgement of massive problems….maybe the boss has not been onto the site.”

Others told of making their way to Centrelink offices after being locked out or denied access to MyGov, to find the shopfront full of other people saying they could not log on.

“I always seem to get a message that access is unavailable, try again later or words to that effect,” one user told The Canberra Times.

“Staff at my GP’s practice inform me that I am not alone in having trouble with MyGov.

“Why did they change things when the individual sites were working well?”

Difficulties logging on were widely reported with the MyGov helpdesk often telling users that it was their own technology, and not the portal that was to blame.

“Trying to log into MyGov sent me to drink,” one wrote.

“I spent two days fighting it.”

Another client wrote on August 7 that they had been locked out of their account for nine days.

“I’ve been locked out since at least July 29 if not before,” the user said.

“I raised the issue at a Centrelink Office that takes me an hour to get to – at least they let me speak to a real person – and was told it was not an issue with everyone else and it was due to my phone reception.

“This was despite showing them screen shots and that I was attempting logins on both wifi and 3 and 4G networks.

“There have been no emails providing any information on the problem or any possible solutions.”

Other clients were more blunt.

“The system is a joke,” one wrote.

“The MyGov web site has been nothing more than a complete shambles since 01 July 2015,” added another.

One frustrated pensioner questioned whether senior DHS public servants were aware of the extent of MyGov’s problems.

“One wonders how well they have met their customer service obligations for high availability of the portal,” the customer wrote.

“I suspect that it is not being reported or if it is, the truth is being kept from the senior staff in DHS and Centrelink.”

The Department of Human Services was contacted for comment on Monday but was unable to respond before deadline.

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Northern Hospital CEO Janet Compton resigns amid concerns about network’s performance

The CEO of one of Melbourne’s busiest public hospital networks has resigned amid concerns about the service’s performance.
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On Monday, the recently appointed chair of the Northern Health Board, Jennifer Williams, announced that the Northern Hospital’s Chief Executive Officer, Janet Compton, had resigned, effective immediately.

Ms Compton’s resignation comes after the Epping hospital consistently failed some of the state government’s key performance indicators during the year to March. It also follows investigations into bullying and concerns about patient care among plastic surgeons.

The state government’s most recent hospital performance report revealed the Northern Hospital in Melbourne’s booming northern suburbs has been struggling to meet targets for emergency and surgical care.

Between January and March, it treated just 43 per cent of category two elective surgery patients on time. This includes patients needing hip, knee and heart valve replacements. The government’s target is for 80 per cent to be done within 90 days.

It has also been failing target times for treating category two emergency patients such as those having strokes, or suffering from severe bleeding and major fractures.

The Age understands the government has been concerned about the network’s performance in recent times. This concern follows reports the previous Coalition government considered merging it with the Austin Hospital in Heidelberg to try to make the services more efficient.

On Monday, Ms Williams, a former CEO of Alfred Health and Austin Health, issued a statement to Northern Health staff, advising them of Ms Compton’s departure.

“Janet is on leave from today and an interim Chief Executive will be appointed while the Board carries out a search to appoint a new Chief Executive as soon as possible,” the statement said.

Ms Williams described Ms Compton as a “strong and courageous leader with a passion for delivering outstanding health care” who had been improving the hospital’s emergency department and maternity unit to reduce wait times and improve patient flow.

She said Ms Compton, who was appointed CEO in 2013, had also developed plans for Northern Health to partner with other health services and providers and strengthened ties with universities.

“We all congratulate and thank Janet for her leadership and contribution to outstanding health care for Northern Health and the Northern community,” the statement said.

Last year, The Age revealed Northern Health was being swamped with demand due to rapid population growth. Briefing documents seen by The Age said the area was attracting young families, increasing demand for maternity and paediatric services. It is also home to a population with higher rates of obesity and diabetes compared to the state average.

Demand for the hospital’s emergency department, already one of the state’s busiest, was expected to surge from an average of 1300 patients a week in 2014 to 1700 a week by 2018.

Patients receiving elective surgery would increase by more than 50 per cent within the next three years, from about 14,000 patients in 2014 to 21,370 patients in 2018.

Before the election, the Coalition promised a $98 million expansion of the hospital which was not matched by Labor. The expansion would have provided 12 extra intensive care beds, 64 new general ward beds and two new operating theatres as part of a “south tower” currently under construction.

The project’s $29 million first stage – a 32-bed ward above two “shell” floors – was funded in the 2013-14 state budget.

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Wyndham Vale lake crash: Akon Guode charged with murder of her three children

The mother of three children who drowned when their car plunged into a lake in April has been charged with their murder.
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Akon Guode​, 36, was charged with the murder of 16 month-old Bol and four-year-old twins Hanger and Madit​ at an out-of-sessions court hearing on Monday.

The three children died when the car she was driving crashed into Lake Gladman in Wyndham Vale on April 8.

She was also charged with the attempted murder of her six-year-old girl Aluel, who was in the car as well but survived the crash.

Guode looked downcast and avoided eye contact with bail justice Ken Coghlan as he read out the charges.

Speaking through an interpreter, she said she had been suffering from chest pains and made a point of mentioning to the bail justice that she had not been in any sort of trouble since arriving in Australia.

Guode has been remanded in custody and will face the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Tuesday.

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Australia’s $3b hangover: Alcohol and drugs causing 11.5m ‘sick days’

A new study has found that the more alcohol and drugs an employee consumes, the more time they are likely to take off work. Photo: Arsineh Houspian A new study has found that the more alcohol and drugs an employee consumes, the more time they are likely to take off work. Photo: Arsineh Houspian
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A new study has found that the more alcohol and drugs an employee consumes, the more time they are likely to take off work. Photo: Arsineh Houspian

A new study has found that the more alcohol and drugs an employee consumes, the more time they are likely to take off work. Photo: Arsineh Houspian

Hangovers are causing 11.5 million “sick days” a year at a cost of $3 billion to the Australian economy, new research suggests.

There are also fears that people who are mixing alcohol with amphetamines on the weekends are experiencing “Weepy Wednesdays” because of the delayed effects of their drug use, making them irritable and unreliable workers.

A Flinders University study has found that the more alcohol and/or drugs an employee consumes, the more time they are likely to take off work.

After tallying the total cost of this lost productivity at $3 billion a year – up from $1.2 billion in alcohol-related absenteeism alone in 2001 – the researchers said employers should be looking at ways to promote a healthier culture in their workplace especially around alcohol, which is by far the biggest problem.

Researchers at the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction looked at data from the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, which asked more than 12,000 people about their habits and how often they missed work, university or school because of them.

While most (56 per cent) drank alcohol at low risk levels (four or less drinks on one occasion), 27 per cent drank at risky levels (five to 10 drinks in one session) and 9 per cent drank at a high risk level (more than 11 drinks in one stint).

When asked about illicit drug use, 7 per cent used drugs yearly, 3 per cent did so monthly and 5 per cent used weekly.

Using the participants’ responses, the researchers estimated Australians missed a total of 1.6 million days due to alcohol and about 854,000 days due to drug use that year, with rates of absence increasing with riskier and more frequent consumption.

The researchers then used two measures to work out the cost. The first measure multiplied the self-reported number of days missed by $267.70 (one day’s wage plus 20 per cent employer on-costs).

The second measure calculated the amount of any illness/injury absenteeism attributable to alcohol and drug use by estimating the average difference in absence for those who used alcohol or drugs compared to abstainers. This figure was also multiplied by $267.70.

On the first measure, 2.5 million days were lost annually, costing $680 million. On the second, 11.5 million days were lost annually, costing $3 billion.

Lead author of the study, Ann Roche, said people indulging in alcohol and drugs on the weekend may not realise it is causing their stomach upset, headache or worsening cold by Monday, making the second measure arguably more reliable.

“Alcohol puts a bit of a tax on your immune system … and it’s quite implicated in mental health problems. If people are prone towards anxiety and depression, they often self medicate with alcohol,” she said.

Professor Roche said there was also anecdotal evidence of “Weepy Wednesdays” among people who use amphetamines and alcohol on the weekend and then experience a deterioration of their general wellbeing during the week.

While the average amount of alcohol being consumed by Australians has been decreasing, Professor Roche said there was evidence a minority of people were drinking extreme amounts of alcohol – enough to end up in hospital.

“There has also been a statistically significant increase in baby boomers drinking at risky levels. We’ve never seen that before,” she said.

Professor Roche said Australian businesses should promote healthy behaviour to reduce the costs of absenteeism. She recommended formal alcohol and drug policies, education and training for staff and confidential access to counselling and treatment if people need it.

“The good news is that these kinds of strategies have been shown to be highly effective,” she said.

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Why it pays to plead guilty: discount for serious crimes revealed

Criminals who plead guilty are doing so sooner in the judicial process.Criminals have more reason to plead guilty early as first-of-its-kind research reveals most offenders are getting reductions of 20 to 30 per cent off jail sentences in Victoria’s higher courts.
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The second-most common discount was even higher, of up to 40 per cent, and in a third of cases the type of sentence was changed entirely and the offender did not receive any jail time.

The data comes from a Sentencing Advisory Council report into the effect of regulations that since 2008 have required judges to disclose the discounts given to people who plead guilty to certain offences.

The study, which looked at more than 9600 cases in the Victorian county and supreme courts for the five years to June 2014, found those who pleaded guilty were doing so sooner in the judicial process.

“That saves everybody time and money,” council chair Arie Freiberg said, adding that it spared victims trauma associated with drawn out court proceedings.

Victims of Crime Commissioner Greg Davies said although it was important to encourage guilty pleas, discounts that were too generous were also damaging to victims.

“On average, it’s a massive discount and while this process allows many victims to avoid experiencing revictimisation through the trial process it then opens them up for revictimisation through what they may perceive to be an inadequate sentence,” he said.

The report also found most criminals in the higher courts (72 per cent in the Supreme Court and 84 per cent in the County Court) pleaded guilty, young people were the most likely to plead guilty and those sentenced for murder were least likely to plead guilty.

Most discounts were “quite standard, in fact, towards the moderate end of the range”, of what was happening in other states and overseas, Professor Freiberg said.

The report found widely criticised sentencing laws passed in 2014 to impose a baseline median for the most serious offences could deter offenders from pleading guilty and complicate plea negotiations, leading to agreements over lesser charges to avoid the baseline.

“It may be if you plead guilty to that then you may be facing that baseline so there is a motivation of an accused person to plead not guilty and take their chances at getting an acquittal,” Professor Freiberg said.

The report comes as the Victorian Law Reform Commission released a discussion paper into the role of victims of crime in the criminal trial process, calling for input on whether victims should be given more power.

Mr Davies’ submission to the commission will call for dedicated personnel at courts to support victims akin to those supplied for accused people, he said.

“At the moment a victim has no greater status at trial than as a witness and they’re the worst treated witness at that,” he said. “Someone needs to be there to give victims some support and understanding and to raise their status above that of a witness.”

Other reforms considered by the review include whether victims should be allowed to have a lawyer represent them at trial and the prospect of abolishing committal hearings.

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