Major boost for ‘vital driver’ of improving disability outcomes

Morgan Liotta

20/04/2022 4:01:04 PM

Millions in funding has been allocated to support key elements of a plan aimed at improving the health of people with intellectual disability.

Talking to person with intellectual disability
The national roadmap will help support GPs to provide optimal care for people with intellectual disability.

Disability advocates have hailed new funding that will go towards establishing a National Centre for Intellectual Disability Health, which is one of the major elements of the National Roadmap for Improving the Health of People with Intellectual Disability.
The $28 million investment, announced by outgoing Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, includes $8 million over two years to establishment the centre, as well as $20 million for a grant round through the Medical Research Future Fund.
It follows a call made in an open letter released ahead of the Federal Election campaign by a host of disability advocates, including 2022 Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott and the RACGP, to fund the centre ‘within the next 12 months’.
Issued as part of the Council for Intellectual Disability’s ‘End deadly disability discrimination’ campaign, the open letter called on all parties contesting the 2022 Federal Election to commit to the national roadmap and described the centre as a ‘vital driver of action on the roadmap’.
Once established, the centre will aim to lead research and development of best practice and be a hub of health information and training resources for people with intellectual disability, their supporters and health professionals.
RACGP Specific Interests Disability Chair, Adjunct Associate Professor Robert Davis, also signed the open letter and attended Department of Health (DoH) roundtables as part of the development of the national roadmap.
He welcomed the funding announcement and told newsGP it helps to lay solid foundations to build on.
‘I’m obviously pleased about the funding, including the amount towards research … as it’s certainly something that deals with the problem of inequitable healthcare and people with intellectual disabilities,’ Associate Professor Davis said.
‘There needs to be some special attention to the needs of this population.’
Associate Professor Davis cites the COVID-19 pandemic as a clear example of health inequities for people with intellectual disability, who faced issues accessing vaccines in what was described as ‘systemic neglect’.
During the first wave of the COVID vaccine rollout, Associate Professor Davis said there was a ‘disconnect’ between health and people with disability, but he believes the new funding will help to address the issue.
‘We [healthcare providers] had to adopt some special practices or make some accommodations to ensure that this population got the same or equitable healthcare to the rest of the population,’ he said.
‘The funding goes some way to overcome the inequitable healthcare in people with intellectual disability who die much earlier than people in the general population and may have trouble accessing healthcare.’
An estimated 1.8% of the Australian population have intellectual disability and around 61% of those people have a ‘severe or profound’ limitation in ‘core’ activities of daily living.
Compared with the general population, people with intellectual disability experience more than twice the rate of avoidable deaths and hospital admissions, as well as significantly higher rates of physical and mental health conditions and lower rates of preventive healthcare.
Once established, the National Centre for Intellectual Disability Health will be available to all health and disability service providers and will comprise four core, inter-related functions:

  • Providing national leadership in intellectual disability health
  • Identifying national research and data priorities, translating research and interpreting health data
  • Lifting the capability of health services in meeting the needs of people with intellectual disability
  • Providing online support, including a portal to help connect people with intellectual disability to appropriate health services, and providing health resources and information for people with intellectual disability and their families
Associate Professor Davis says GPs are central to supporting people with intellectual disability and their families, particularly in providing preventive healthcare and linking them with other support services, such as the NDIS.
‘The bulk of healthcare for people with intellectual disability has been provided by GPs, and will continue to be,’ he said.
‘The other thing is that there’s been a big gap in the support for people with intellectual disability who would see a paediatrician up to the age of 18, and after that, there’s no specialised service that deals with their issues – that’s left largely to the GP.
‘So this [investment] will go some way to help overcome that.’
The RACGP will continue to support GPs in upskilling and delivering best practice care to patients with intellectual disability, Associate Professor Davis said.
‘Currently we are developing advanced skills within the college for GPs caring for people with intellectual disability, and this will fit nicely into the push to improve the healthcare for this population,’ he said.
‘It will give us a good background in terms of resources and evidence-based care for this population.’
The DoH will undertake a competitive grant opportunity in 2022–23 to select a host for the new National Centre for Intellectual Disability Health.
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