06 May 2019

Government’s NDIS growth figures ‘pretty meaningless’: GP

6/05/2019 2:54:49 PM

Dr James Best discusses the gap between the Government’s positive depiction of the NDIS and the experiences of people navigating the scheme.

Man in wheelchair and no ramp
Many would-be NDIS participants are experiencing barriers in gaining access to the scheme.

The Federal Government last week declared the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) was ‘gaining significant momentum’, using figures from the latest report from the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Disability Reform Council.
‘Almost 280,000 Australians with disability are now benefitting from the NDIS, with more than 85,000 of those receiving support for the very first time,’ Minister for Families and Social Services, Paul Fletcher, said.
‘This represents growth of more than 900% since the commencement of the transition phase on 1 July 2016.’
The Minister also cited the COAG report in discussion of a slower-than-expected uptake of the scheme, which resulted in an NDIS underspend of $1.6 billion.
‘Back in 2012–13, there were estimates made for each state and territory of the number of people expected to transition across to the NDIS, based on the records held by each Commonwealth, state and territory disability program,’ he said. 
‘Across Australia, this was expected to be 290,000 people during the transition period from 1 July 2016. But, to date, only 200,000 people have been identified – largely because these records simply were not very good.’
But Dr James Best, a GP who has a son with autism who needs access to the NDIS, contends that while these figures and explanations might sound good, they don’t stand up to further scrutiny.
‘The 900% growth figure is pretty meaningless, as the scheme essentially didn’t exist beforehand except in a trial basis, so of course it’s going to grow dramatically from nothing,’ he told newsGP.
Dr Best also believes the relatively low uptake of the NDIS is best explained by difficulty in accessing the scheme rather than ‘dodgy figures of anticipated demand’.
‘The NDIA [National Disability Insurance Agency] is an unwieldy bureaucracy and many people who would be eligible for NDIS funding face huge barriers even accessing, let alone navigating the scheme,’ he said.
‘This includes Indigenous people, people from CALD [culturally and linguistically diverse] backgrounds, people with psychosocial disabilities and the homeless.’

Dr James Best, while sceptical about some of the ways the NDIS rollout has been handled, remains supportive of the scheme overall.

Sarah Henderson, Assistant Minister for Social Services, Housing and Disability Services, was keen to highlight positive figures from the COAG report with regards to satisfaction reported by participants of the NDIS.
‘Of the participants surveyed this quarter, 94% felt their planner listened to them, 91% considered that they had enough time to tell their story, and 92% reported their planning meeting to have gone well,’ she said.
But according to Dr Best, these figures relate solely to people’s experience of their planning meeting, and looking further into NDIS participants’ experience with their overall plan reveals lower levels of satisfaction – although those satisfaction levels do show improvement over the two years of the scheme’s operation.
For example, 56% of parents and carers of children starting school through to 14 years thought their child was more independent as a result of the NDIS in their first year on the scheme, a figure that rose to 65% in the second year, while 59% of people aged 15–24 years felt the NDIS had helped them with daily living activities in their first year, growing to 66% in their second year.
However, Dr Best also observes it is not difficult to find stories of dissatisfaction from NDIS participants and those who support them.
‘Children in need of early intervention, for example, are waiting far too long to get access to services, which the NDIS readily acknowledges,’ he said.
‘Scores of people with approved plans are not even spending the money they’ve been allocated. In the case of my son, we would have been lucky to use a quarter of the money allocated to him in his first plan, and our case is not unusual at all.
‘Simply put, there are not enough allied health professionals, disability service providers and trained support workers to meet the demand for services, especially outside of the capital cities.’
But while Dr Best is sceptical of the Government’s positive spin on the progress of the NDIS, he remains supportive of the scheme overall.
‘The NDIS is an enormous social reform and in many ways it’s not surprising there would be teething problems in its early years, as a whole new workforce has to grow and upskill to meet the demand for services,’ he said. 
While Dr Best does not blame the current government for all of the problems of the NDIS rollout process, he remains concerned the scheme will be subject to political interference, and hopes this possibility will be curtailed in the future.
‘While [problems with the scheme are] not necessarily the Coalition Government’s fault, it is concerning that they capped NDIA staff numbers and even more worrying that they are proposing to pocket the NDIS underspend to produce a budget surplus, rather than using that money to address the ongoing problems that still exist with the scheme,’ he said.

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Mary   6/05/2019 10:14:00 PM

The scheme is unfathomable and hard to access for tertiary educated personal let alone anyone less educated. The stress is inordinate and it is repeated year in with plans that are cookie cutter with no justifications of working out provided to clients. LAC's write what they need to to get funded as the NDIA has "words and jargon that it needs to hear". It seems to be tick the jargon based rather than help people with a disability and cost cutting not provide everything to meet needs. Layers of hidden rules eg a plan that says you a buy low cost AT but a hidden cap on the amount. Can get an electric wheelchair but not the ramp to get it into the house.....

Ruth Spain   7/05/2019 5:46:52 PM

People with issues need help basically with housework cooking, cleaning, tidying up. Also washing, and washing the dishes.

Sasi   7/05/2019 10:18:14 PM

Dear Dr
Do you know how many people are abusing the system?

Dr Peter j Strickland   8/05/2019 11:22:56 AM

The pragmatic problems of the NDIS appear to have come to fruition. The public servants and companies running the 'show' are protecting themselves first, and causing enormous frustrations to the truly disabled. The other problem is that there are those 'jumping on the bandwagon' of disability, and that will be an increasing problem. When government present an open-ended funding scenario there are going to all those people jumping on this bandwagon to get a slice of the 'goodies'. The big question is "What is a disability that needs to be funded?' Is it physical or intellectual disability, is it dementia, or even is it mental illness? The argument is open-ended, and very strict parameters have be set to determine disability, and also very strict conditions now placed on providers ---at present it appears to present serious problems of incompetence and oversight causing enormous delays and decisions.

May   25/08/2019 5:15:30 PM

An inordinate amount of waste, thousands of dollars on OT reports to be told that the planner can't consider them as they were written at the time a "light touch review was requested but refused". Another $500 on OT report as per planner advice for low cost AT - told that the AT threshold is $1500. What a waste!!