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Accessing high quality healthcare for people with disabilities – The challenges of the NDIS

24 Mar 2014, by Informa Insights

The 5th Annual National Disability Summit 2014 convened in Melbourne on 17th and 18th March to discuss the roll-out of the landmark National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Based on the premise of putting people with a disability in the driver’s seat to enable greater individual choice and control, the NDIS has been subject to both praise and scrutiny since its assent in March 2013.

The meeting offered a timely platform for prominent industry players to share their own experiences, highlighting success stories to date and debating the challenges that need to be tackled in order for the scheme to reach its full potential of reforming disability services.

The event opened with the State “Launch site/Trial site Case Study and Feedback” sessions, which combined governmental and on-the-ground perspectives from Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT.  Alongside highlighting the great progress to date, discussion also focused on a number of important issues that the rollouts are continuing to face, including the need for targeted support for vulnerable providers and more sustainable funding and fundraising models. Evidently, the new marketplace of the NDIS does still pose a number of challenges and it may take some time before full ‘sector readiness’.

Elaine Robb, CEO of Encompass Community Services, led the “Service Provider & Disability Workforce Transition” session, addressing a number of issues service providers need to consider under this new ‘business system’, including effectively pricing services, creating Individual Support Packages, enhancing workforce productivity and service provider survival. The two post-conference workshops on 19th March offered the chance to further develop learning in these areas, in a more interactive setting. Whilst Gail Hopkins, MD of marketing and creative agency Make It Happen, focused on “Standing out a crowd” through highlighting ways in which to make communications cost-effective, timely and captivating, Tim Flowers, Partner at Saward Dawson, led training on how to understand and implement the “Necessary Adaptions for Individualised Community Support and Successful Workforce Transition under the NDIS”.


Listening to and meeting the support needs of individuals at the margins is frequently cited as critical to the success of the emerging disability support system. Accordingly, the final session of day one welcomed discussion around enhancing support for carers, individuals in remote and rural areas, indigenous populations and individuals within the aged care system.  The expert selection of speakers included Trevor Parmenter, Professor at the Sydney School of Medicine, Jean Tops, President of the Gippsland Carers Association and Dr Stuart Wark of the School of Rural Medicine in NSW.

The second day welcomed increased audience input with a selection of panel discussions focusing on particularly contentious issues. Suzanne Vile, Principal Consultant at Dyson Consulting Group led an industry-wide discussion (combining inputs from consumers, carers and service providers) generating ideas of positive steps that could be taken to make flexible and quality services a reality. Empowerment and capitalising on the skills base of people with a disability were just a couple of the factors highlighted as critical. Interestingly, the audience remained closely divided on a vote around whether “Under the NDIS will genuine individual, realistic, flexible and quality services become a reality”, with an almost exact 50/50 split.

Further panel discussions welcomed recommendations on improving employment rates of people with a disability, notably highlighting the need for employers to better understand disability and investing properly in assisting people with a disability in their progression from a ‘job’ to a ‘career’.  A different conversation centred on building enabling infrastructures for those with complex care needs, led by a panel all of whom had both personal and professional experiences within this area. Notably, the importance of a knowledgeable, trained and dedicated carer was one element deemed paramount in ensuring such individuals are able to exercise meaningful choice and control.

disability_serv_heroThe two days culminated in an illuminating Healthcare/Disability panel discussion led by Vicki Manton, part of the Health Support Team of Yooralla; Kate Philips, a Senior Physiotherapist at Independent Rehabilitation Services in Victoria; and Bob Davies, Clinical Director and GP of the Centre for Developmental Disability Health Victoria. Focusing on the barriers and enablers of people with a disability who have had health issues, it was highlighted that the disjunct between the health and disability sectors has been at the detriment to the healthcare of people with a disability. A need for improved joint working, alongside improved accountability and data collection were highlighted as fundamental in overcoming this. As a result, the audience joined together at the end of the day to resolve that:

Ensuring that people with disabilities receive the healthcare they need is the joint responsibility of the health and disability sectors. Both sectors need to take an active role in facilitating access to high quality healthcare for people with disabilities. 

The event was an insightful and timely platform to discuss the merits and remaining challenges that exist around the NDIS.  A number of excellent recommendations were shared, which in itself contributes hugely to the end goal of a sustainable and equitable multi-ability society.

Huge thanks to our speakers and active audience members for contributing to such valuable discussion and we hope to see you in 2015!

Note of Apology 20th March 2015:
We deeply regret any anger and distress caused by the unauthorised use of the “Every Australian Counts: NDIS revolutionising disability services” logo in this article as it originally appeared in March 2014. We have since removed the logo and sincerely apologise to the National Disability Services for any unintentional association and/or endorsement of the annual National Disability Summit.

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