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Shocking new data reveals disability sector is frustrated, distressed and pessimistic

A silhouette of a senior woman in wheelchair in nature in the evening

New data from National Disability Services (NDS) show the sector is in distress; with confidence in the system close to an all-time low, operating conditions believed to be worsening and almost three quarters of the sector struggling to recruit sufficient staff.

One of the starkest findings of this year’s ‘State of the Disability Sector Report’ is how few providers think that the NDIA interacts well with them or regard its processes with anything close to approval.

Just 12 per cent say that they think the NDIA works well with providers, while a full 59 per cent feel that it imposes ‘too many unnecessary rules and regulations’, and even more object to its ‘systems and processes’.

“What is also worrying is that only a quarter of providers believe the reforms that are underway to further develop the NDIS, are heading in the right direction,” NDS Interim CEO Laurie Leigh says.

Operating during the pandemic has had its challenges for disability service providers, but issues around the sector’s pricing and processes has taken a toll on organisations like Able Australia.

“Responding to these changes requires significant administrative and operational input, and this detracts from the vital work we should be concentrating on – providing the very best support for our clients,” Able Australia’s CEO Kate MacRae says.

The key issues highlighted in the report are a loss of confidence in the NDIA and policy settings, a lack of financial and business sustainability, significant labour shortages impacting on providers ability to deliver services and the current system’s failure to provide the right environment for the required innovation.

But despite the bleak outlook, Leigh says there is a way out of this predicament.

“We need to understand that the system is made up of the NDIA, participants AND providers. Providers should be proactively engaged by the NDIA to build collaboratively a system that works to deliver the services needed by people with a disability.”

Co-designing the scheme with participants and providers, creating a transparent model, and holding all governments to account for the outcomes are just three of the 11 action points the report underlines.

“It’s important something is done now to correct these issues, because it’s been a difficult year for disability service providers and most expect 2022 to be worse,” Leigh says.

“Two years of outbreaks and lockdowns have taken a toll on mental health and wellbeing across disability services, at all levels,” MacRae says, “the initial fear and fatigue from 2020 has evolved to overwhelming exhaustion and flatness for many clients and staff alike.”

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