All Victorian disability service providers have been put on notice and some have been referred to police after a review of deaths in the state found “significant failures” to meet obligations.
A spokeswoman for the office of the Victorian Disability Services Commissioner told Community Care Review some providers had been referred to police for possible criminal conduct after Commissioner Arthur Rogers released a review of people with disability who died while receiving services over the last year.
“As a result of the investigations, the Commissioner has issued Notices to Take Action to some disability service providers to rectify practices that did not meet their obligations under the Act, issued a Notice of Advice to all Victorian disability service providers, and notified Victoria Police and the State Coroner about concerns in individual cases,” the office of the DSC said in a statement.
The report, which reviewed 48 of the 88 people who died while receiving government and non-government disability services in 2017-18, found evidence of poor practice by some disability providers and has called for action at state and national levels.
Deaths related to choking, aspiration
Three of the deaths investigated were caused by choking on food and seven related to aspiration pneumonia, a lung infection caused by inhaling food, saliva or vomit.
Eighty-three per cent of deaths involved people with disability living in shared supported accommodation and the median age of death was 52 for men and 54 for women – 29 years younger than the median age of death for the general population.
“This important review tells us that some Victorian disability service providers are not meeting their obligations under the Act to uphold the rights, safety and wellbeing of people with disability.
“These outcomes are relevant for all disability service providers, not just those subject to our investigations,” Mr Rogers said.
He said he hoped the review would inform the implementation of the NDIS, particularly for people who required assistance with communication, diet and meals.
“We would also expect service providers to respond to this report by increasing their focus on identifying and implementing appropriate supports for the people they support,” he said.
Service providers ‘mortified’
Chris Tanti, CEO of the peak disability provider body National Disability Services, said the deaths clearly needed to be investigated and NDS supported police investigation where appropriate.
“We are all mortified at the death of any people with disability who are receiving services,” he told Community Care Review.
He said the findings needed to be considered in the context of NDIS pricing and the role of the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, as it was unclear how the commission would investigate circumstances where people with a disability had died while receiving disability services.
Need for better support and guidelines on eating and drinking
Gaenor Dixon, the national president of Speech Pathology Australia, said the report confirmed that without appropriate plans and supports, choking deaths would remain a serious threat to many Australians with disability.
The DSC report comes after a NSW Ombudsman’s report also found in 2012-2013 that people with disability were at increased risk of choking and chronic aspiration while in residential accommodation.
“The sad reality is that the most common factors in choking deaths is a lack of clear personalised information about safe eating and drinking for people with disability, and inadequate supervision,” Ms Dixon said.
What the report found
- Failure of some providers to follow expert advice about implementing modified diets
- Lack of support for people with disability to communicate their specific needs
- Poor record keeping
- Half the deaths possibly related to heart conditions hadn’t seen a cardiologist or dietician in the previous year.
You can read the full DSC report here.