Calls for coordinated approach as NDIS access issues continue

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

6/03/2020 3:56:50 PM

Senators heard at an estimates hearing that the National Disability Insurance Agency is still working through 16,000 unopened email enquiries.

Man in wheelchair at bottom of escalators.
Many GPs believe a coordinated approach between health and disability services could help eligible NDIS recipients navigate the process.

A Senate Estimates hearing into the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) this week heard that the agency looking after the scheme still has close to 16,000 unread emails, which Dr James Best told newsGP is indicative of continued ‘administrative problems and access issues’ that have yet to be sorted out.
RACGP Specific Interests Disability network Chair, Associate Professor Robert Davis agrees.
‘Fairly clearly they still need to resource their communication with the public and with people who are registered,’ he told newsGP.
‘If you set up a site like that you need to have a response system in place to deal with it.’
National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) CEO, Martin Hoffman acknowledged during the hearing that it was a ‘big issue’, and that around 100 staff had been assigned to working through the emails.
It was also confirmed at the hearing that 1279 people approved for the scheme had died over a three-year period, from July 2016 to September 2019, before having received their first plan. However, there has been no suggestion that the deaths had any link to not having an NDIS plan. 
Associate Professor Davis said that while the numbers may sound startling, more context is required.
‘If a person is unwell enough, seriously unwell, then clearly the health issues take priority [over the ongoing disability] don’t they? It may well reflect the fact that they weren’t available, it was a struggle to get them available for the assessments and set up the funding. So again that’s the detail,’ he said.
Instead, Associate Professor Davis said the numbers highlight the fact that many people with a disability have major health issues and that in turn there is a need ‘for a coordinated approach between services for their health and the services for their disability’.
‘I think that’s what should be worked on,’ he said.
‘To me that’s the issue that should be highlighted, that there are a significant number of people who are unwell and who are receiving NDIS packages, and there needs to be better integration of the health and disability services.’
Dr Best shared the sentiment, saying that ‘the GP voice in the NDIS has not been heard adequately’.
‘There has been feedback from the NDIS that they are going to change that and I welcome that statement, but I would really like to see that happen,’ Dr Best said.

‘I think the GP often has a very good idea of what a patient can and cannot do, and we should be involved and we should be part of the development of the application and also the continuation of an NDIS plan.’
A review of the NDIS commissioned by the Federal Government found the scheme had a number of issues, from long waiting times and red tape, to inconsistent decision-making.
The complexity of the process is something that Dr Best would like to see streamlined, especially for disadvantaged people such as those with poor health literacy or English-speaking skills.
‘They are the people who are going to find the process the most difficult,’ he said.
‘Even people who have no issues in that regard, and I get this feedback often, their process is really challenging. It was said to me by a patient last week who was tertiary educated and quite switched on that “if I’m having trouble what about people who struggle”.
‘So I think it really needs to be reviewed. They’ve been talking about it for a long time, it would be good to see some actual real change.’
To help ensure this is the case going forward, a group of RACGP representatives, including Associate Professor Davis, has met with high level representatives of the NDIS ‘looking at better communication between GPs and NDIS services … and ways to help with assessments and also with ongoing support’.
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