News | 24 January 2019

Why are we waiting?

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We're waiting too long for assistive technology

In all the hurly burly of the silly season the report got a bit lost (if we were being cynical we could suggest that was the point) so we thought it was worth digging it out and having a bit of a longer look.

The NDIS defines assistive technology as “any device or system that allows individuals to perform tasks they would otherwise be unable to do or increases the ease and safety with which tasks can be performed” – but you can just call it equipment, tech, kit, gear or just plain old stuff.

It includes equipment like hearing aids, wheelchairs, communication aids, and prostheses.

Home modifications are also considered assistive technology under the NDIS.

It goes without saying that a LOT needs to be done to improve access to equipment. People said time and time again at  NDIS Make It Work forums – the time it takes to get vital equipment is one of the biggest problems with the NDIS.

We  heard stories of people waiting months at best and more than a year at worst to get the equipment they need. That’s too long for anyone but it is particularly problematic for kids who just don’t stop growing while they are waiting for their kit to arrive.

Something’s gotta give – so just what does the Committee think that is?

Let’s break it down.

The Recommendations

The Joint Standing Committee came up with 8 recommendations to help improve access to assistive tech. Here are their key recommendations:

  1. The NDIA needs revise the information on their website about assistive technology to make the process easier to understand. The NDIA also needs to give their staff better training so the information participants, their families and carers receive is clear and consistent. (We could not agree more.)
  2. A line item for trialling assistive technology equipment needs be created and included in the plans of all participants who need it. (So we can finally try before we buy. Not a new idea but would make a big difference.)
  3. The NDIA needs to encourage staff to consider and process assistive technology applications in a timely manner by monitoring their performance directly. (We think they need to do more than encourage. Whatever carrots they are using do not seem to be working.)
  4. The NDIA needs to publish the criteria for when participants need to undergo assessment beyond that provided by their therapist to get access to assistive technology under the NDIS. (We are all for greater transparency – people need to know and understand what the process is – and also have it applied consistently.)
  5. The NDIA needs to make funding decisions based on outcomes for participants and not on whether the equipment is considered mainstream, or could be used beyond its purpose as assistive technology. (Amen to that one).
  6. The committee strongly recommends that the NDIA adopt the State Wide Equipment Program (SWEP) model for prescribing Assistive Technology. 
  7. The NDIA must explore ways they can partner with state schemes to make prescription, assessment, and delivery of Assistive Technology to NDIS participants easier. ( It is important to remember that not of all the delays are the result of the NDIS. Some of the delays are a result of the way the state scheme’s operate. That is a long standing problem that needs attention stat.)
  8. The NDIA must undertake an urgent review of all aspects of how it delivers assistive technology to participants. The NDIS should specifically focus on how it can utilise current state and territory equipment schemes, including bulk-purchasing, loan and recycling programs. (Sensible. Can’t believe we are five years in and still thinking about this.)

While it’s great to see that the Committee recognises that many of us are waiting way too long for our equipment, what we need to see most is ACTION.

And fast.

So the NDIA have already started implementing some changes to their systems. So far they’ve listed five changes they’re making immediately:

  1. Improvements to the planning process that include reducing the need for quotes for all equipment, particularly low cost equipment.
  2. Making sure they have dedicated resources to address outstanding equipment plan approvals.
  3. Making sure equipment repairs and replacements happen where and when they’re needed by including funding in plans.
  4. Piloting a new process to improve the assessments and timeframes for more complex and non-standard equipment.
  5. Continuing to work with state and territory equipment programs to make sure NDIS participants are getting the best outcomes.

While these changes sound good, the devil is always in the detail – how and when they will be rolled out.

So we’ll be watching to see if things really do turn around for those who need equipment and those of us who are still waiting.

We’ll keep you updated on how it progresses, but in the meantime, let us know what you think in the comments below.

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