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Occupational therapists call for urgent improvements to children's care under NDIS

Photo: Occupational therapists call for urgent improvements to children's care under ND....
Occupational Therapy Australia (OTA) has called for urgent improvements to the National Disability Insurance Scheme’s arrangements for the care of children aged 0 to 6 years.

Appearing before the Australian Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS in Melbourne this morning, OTA representatives Lisa Vale and Anne Sunners said poor communication, inexperienced NDIS Planners and long delays in accessing early childhood supports were compromising the effectiveness of the scheme’s Early Childhood Early Intervention (ECEI) Approach.

Ms Vale and Ms Sunners, who are both practising occupational therapists, stressed that timeliness of care is crucial to the success of ECEI and that the seeming inability of the National Disability Insurance Agency to return telephone calls and acknowledge emails was a cause of intense frustration for NDIS participants and providers.
“It can take months for calls to be returned,” Ms Vale said. “At a time when parents are reeling from a diagnosis of disability, this failure to communicate is doubly distressing. The NDIA owes it to these vulnerable families to lift its game.”

“OTA believes that, as a matter of urgency, the NDIA should conduct a wide-ranging review of its communication processes to identify examples of poor practice and develop solutions to the problem of untimely responses to queries from participants and providers.

“The NDIA’s apparent inability to engage meaningfully with service providers, and the difficulties involved in navigating the NDIA website, also act as disincentives to registration as an NDIS provider. At a time when there are doubts about whether the disability workforce will be sufficient to meet NDIS driven demand, the NDIA should not be allowing such disincentives to undermine recruitment,” Ms Vale said.

Ms Sunners noted that inexperienced NDIS Planners were another issue of concern.

“OTA is concerned that the identified service needs of participants seem to depend less on actual need than on the knowledge and experience of the Planner they are allocated, whether the participants’ families know what to ask for, and whether they can predict what will be needed in the future,” Ms Sunners said. “This gives rise to inconsistent and often quite inappropriate plans.”

“Staff who are supposed to know the answers very often do not, and the information provided is not consistent across NDIA employees. OTA is often advised by NDIS providers that they never speak to the same person and are therefore constantly having to provide the same information.

“The training provided to NDIS Planners should be revised to provide for more comprehensive participant plans and reduce the frequency of plan reviews. NDIS providers, including occupational therapists, should be consulted throughout the process of developing or refining this training material,” Ms Sunners said.

Other issues raised with the committee by OTA included a perceived conflict of interest when an Early Childhood Partner, which helps a family devise a plan of support for a child with disability, is also in a position to provide the very services recommended.

Accordingly, OTA suggested NDIS participants should be made aware of all appropriately qualified service providers within a designated distance of their residence. Any list of local providers that is given to families should include providers that are not NDIS-registered but can provide services if the family chooses to self-manage their funding.

Ms Vale said these were just a few of the recommendations that were made to the committee in OTA’s written submission.

“Our written submission was longer than earlier submissions to the committee, which reflects the greater than usual input we received from our members on this issue, itself a reflection of the frustration they and their clients are experiencing,” Ms Vale said.

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