National Disability Insurance Agency chief executive David Bowen.Photo: Graham Tidy
The chief executive of the National Disability Insurance Agency has admitted there are gaps in coverage for some ACT families, as administrators respond to criticism regarding delays, bureaucracy and complicated paperwork.
David Bowen met NDIS recipients and service providers from across the ACT on Tuesday morning to identify limitations and challenges before the scheme is formally launched in 2016.
"We haven't come up against particular gaps, other than in some areas of specialised therapies and that will remain an issue, as there are already shortages in some locations," he said.
"I think that it will emerge as a gap as more money enters the marketplace, so it just needs to be managed over the transitional period."
Just 28 planners are working to move almost 500 Canberrans on to the NDIS by the end of 2015, which has prompted complaints that "swamped" workers are making the process take longer than it should.
NDIA ACT trial site manager Jillian Paul said the organisation had listened to feedback from participants about the delays and was hoping to introduce new measures to assist families.
"Being an agency we do have a lot of bureaucracy and some of our paperwork isn't as user-friendly as some people would like it to be, and some of our systems are not as speedy as some people would like them to be," she said.
"One of the things we're doing in the ACT is making an effort to go out and see people if they would like that, rather than inviting them to come into the office.
"We are thinking about how we might use FaceTime, or other means of technology to help people who may not be able to come here, or want us in their house."
But Ms Paul said she was not concerned about the number of service providers in the ACT, with 92 providers already registered and more expressing interest.
"We've got providers from NSW and some from Queensland who have expressed interest in coming here, so we are really confident that we have enough and we would expect that to continue to grow."
The most recent NDIS figures, published in late September, showed there were 103 participants with approved plans in the ACT, which was considerably lower than the 838 people registered in Tasmania, 2648 in NSW, and 3318 in Victoria.
But Mr Bowen was not concerned by the relatively low numbers and said more people were continuing to learn about the NDIS and how it could assist their families.
"These all start over a period of time and the way in which the numbers enter the scheme is according to an agreement between the commonwealth and the states, and we're on track to meet those numbers," he said.
Up to 40 per cent of participants with approved plans had an intellectual disability, with 19 per cent diagnosed with autism, 11 per cent with neurological disabilities, and 10 per cent with cerebral palsy.
Mr Bowen said the ACT government's decision to transition early intervention services to the private sector in early 2014 provided an "excellent example of how the market could respond" despite initial apprehension.
"Around the start of the scheme, the ACT government indicated they would be withdrawing from those preschool support packages and we went out to market with uncertainty to what the response would be," he said.
"We got a very strong response, with eight accredited providers. Rather than there being apprehension around the withdrawal of services there is now a much greater choice available to parents."
Tom Cliff, an NDIS recipient whose son was born with a developmental disability six months ago, said he hoped the NDIS would continue to meet his family's needs by listening to feedback from participants.
"I think it will, so long as the NDIS keeps its stated objective of being flexible to the needs of the people who are coming into the scheme.
"It is a bureaucracy and they do have a systematic way of doing things as an institution, and at the moment there is this great opportunity to shape that institution."
Mr Bowen said he was determined to ensure the NDIS would not default to "the old system, where it's an all-in-one-point-in-time assessment and that's it - you're boxed in for the future.
"This is a system that sets up a lifetime relationship with people and we understand their needs will change over their lifetime and we will be able to ensure their supports change over their lifetime as well."
Mr Bowen, NDIA CEO, says gaps in services "just needs to be managed over the transitional period". His use of "managed" implies some sort of response; it might involve action or be as little as policy setting to promote shifts in service availability. But it should be discernible.
Early intervention for children with autism is a major concern in the ACT. Families of young children with autism perceive "gaps" in the service available now.
The ACT Government used the NDIS as an excuse to shut down its Autism Intervention Units (AIUs), the existing early intervention service for children with autism that the autism community in the ACT won from its Government over years. The NDIA does not fund services equivalent to the AIUs in the ACT: without funding, service providers do not provide a comparable service. The NDIA rejects the evidence-base relating to early intervention for autism (see http://a4.org.au/a4/node/892 and http://a4.org.au/a4/node/843) so children with autism in the ACT will now get reduced services under the NDIS, they will not get an equivalent service. They will be worse off, contrary to promises from both Commonwealth and ACT Governments.
The NDIA says there are more choices now. But theses alleged choices offer a lesser service, well below best practice for autism. None of the "choices" offer centre-based service.
Australia doesn't even have universities that train graduates in best practice early intervention for autism.
Bob Buckley, A4's Convenor and SOfASD Chair, says there are major gaps is behaviour support for students and people with autism. From personal experience he knows there are service gaps with case managers who can get access to essential services when those services don't yet exist. The NDIA needs to adopt a much more proactive role in ensuring essential services actually exist.
The NDIA and the ACT Government refuse to even recognise/acknowledge these issues. Apparently Mr Bowen says this is "an 'excellent example of how the market could respond'". The disability service market has respondednto NDIA policy; the result is inadequate ... far from "excellent". It turns out that the community's "initial apprehension" is completely justified ... there no "despite" about it.
The NDIA says 19% of NDIS participants in the ACT have autism. This is well below the 27% of participants with autism that the NDIA reported recently as its national average.
These are very early figures ... and autism diagnosis is not a responsibility of the NDIA. Below average autism numbers in the ACT may result from:
- autism diagnosis rates in the ACT being well below that national average (see http://sofasd.org.au/sofasd/node/32)
- problems with the process for getting an autism diagnosis in the ACT (that the ACT Government refuses to even acknowledge let alone address)
- the initial intake age in the ACT having autism rates that are not representative.
The NDIA really can't address gaps in services until it recognises what those gaps really are.