ACT News

Chief executive admits flaws in NDIS coverage for ACT families and responds to criticism

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.

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"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." 

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