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Comms dispatcher Ali Scott is campaigning against "archaic" ACC legislation. PHOTO: NZPA

A group of Police comms staff are lobbying Parliament to amend a law that prevents them accessing ACC cover for work-related mental health trauma in the same way that other frontline staff can.

The sticking point, says Central Comms dispatcher Ali Scott, is an “archaic” piece of legislation – section 21B of the ACC Act.

ACC’s interpretation of 21B is that it excludes emergency communications staff from cover for mental health injury because they are experiencing workplace events from a “secondary source” – in this case, a radio or telephone.

In its current form, Ali says, that is “outdated, unfair, unsafe and detrimental to the wellbeing of staff”.

Between them, Ali and some of her colleagues have put together an alarming compilation of gruelling incidents they have experienced while taking emergency calls or as police dispatchers. They have done so to point out that they “directly experience, hear and live our calls and events first-hand. Many of them, we cannot unhear”.

These calls can leave a lasting and haunting impression that for some people can be difficult to deal with. If a call taker or dispatcher does suffer a mental injury at work and makes a claim, it is declined. The reason: “We are considered… as ‘secondary’, under the very narrow view that we only ‘hear’ the trauma over the radio or telephone.”

Ali says it’s galling when comms staff are regularly told they are frontline emergency workers. Even though that is undoubtedly true – they are invariably the first port of call for help – that feels like lip service when, under the current legislation, they are not treated as such.

ACC told Ali that her claim for PTSD was declined because she had heard the event over the radio, a secondary source, which did not fit the definition of directly experiencing, seeing or hearing a workplace event. Though it was acknowledged that her PTSD was work related, the claim could not be approved because of the wording and interpretation of section 21B.

Ali sought a review, and the decision was quashed, however that was not accepted by Police claims administrator Gallagher Bassett or Police, who again cited section 21B as the reason for a second rejection of her claim.


The letters sent to MPs paint a vivid picture of the day-to-day reality of the work of non-constabulary Police communications staff. This is an incomplete record of what they are exposed to over Police radios and telephones.

"The moment of impact when a vehicle hits a truck head on. Miraculously the phone survived but the caller did not."

"Gunshots followed by screaming."

"The screaming of a young female hidingbehind the counter in a service station. Her partner has just been stabbed and is bleeding out five metres from her and we don't know where the offender is with the knife."

"The sound of someone being raped... no matter how fast the Police resonse, we are not going to get there in time to save her from this."


"Terror in the voice of a pregnant woman in labour as her intoxicated partner tries to break down the bathroom door. I know what it sounds like when he gets through."

"An officer calling for urgent back up; an officer shot at. I hear the terror in their voice. I feel it too."

"Silence... the worst sound of all."

"The desolation in the voice of a young man calling from the edge of a car parking building... hearing the phone hit the ground."

"Someone hanging themselves."


Ali is not new to the work, having been a Police communicator for 27 years. Before that she worked in a hospital emergency department. She is used to being exposed to traumatic events and “could always walk away at the end and know I had done a good job”.

So, three years ago, it took her by surprise when she realised that something was not right. The job that got to her was an officer being shot at. He was standing in a position “where I had put him”. “We hadn’t known there were firearms present, and it turned into a major incident.”

Fortunately, the officer wasn’t injured, but for Ali, the drama of the event didn’t go away. It became a trigger that caused her to dwell on all the other incidents she had lived through, and it became a rollercoaster of overwhelming emotions.

“It took me about 10 days to realise I wasn’t right.” Eight weeks later, she was diagnosed with PTSD.

Reflecting on it now, Ali can recognise the pattern of exposure. “It’s like being on Energiser batteries. It’s full on, being subjected to everyone else’s trauma. We are part of it for those moments – seconds, minutes, hours – hearing everything because we are trained to… things we don’t want to hear.”

The comms staff take issue with the definition of a police radio as a “secondary source”. They say the radio is a critical and primary source of communication between dispatchers and officers, making them “physically connected… present alongside the officers we are responsible for”. It’s not like a commercial radio that you can switch off if you don’t like what you hear.

“The sounds of people’s grief, anguish, fear, abuse, threats, hysteria, drunkenness and violence are in our ears all the time. We engage with those needing our help at the worst time in their lives.”

Comms staff were the first to be contacted during the country’s most significant disasters in modern times – the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes, the 2019 terror killings attwo Christchurch mosques and the 2019 Whakaari White Island eruption.

The lobby group says PTSD claims by police officers are more regularly accepted, but the ACC legislation fails emergency communication centre staff, with a clear dividebetween the interpretations of clinical psychologists and those of Gallagher Bassett/ACC around mental health injury, which makes the legislation “incredibly unsafe”.

They are seeking a subsection to be added to 21B that defines emergency service radios and telephones as a “primary” source, and an acknowledgment that a claim can be the result of exposure to trauma.

Ali continues to work as a dispatcher. It’s her passion. She still has panic attacks and sometimes has to force herself to enter the building. If she’s really not up to it, she won’t go to work. Normally, though, she says, she’s lucky to have an automatic switch in her brain that clicks into professional mode. Added to that, “I’m bloody minded… that’s my coping mechanism.”

Meanwhile, she is laser-focused on getting the ACC legislation reviewed. She doesn’t want others to go through the hoops and be confronted with the impassable roadblocks that she encountered.

The campaign was conceived last year and got under way in 2024. Ali has written to, and met, her local MP, former prime minister Chris Hipkins. Other staff have contacted their MPs.

“Now, for me, it’s whatever it takes to help and that will be part of the healing process for me.”

The Police Association supports Ali’s position that comms staff who experience a mental health injury as a result of the work they do should be able to access ACC support. Senior employment adviser Amanda Craig says it appears that when section 21B was drafted it never envisaged their work situation. “Recognition that section 21B unfairly excludes comms centre staff is urgently needed.”

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