There are concerns the disability sector is being left behind in the national coronavirus response.
Disability was absent from Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s public health announcement last week and a webinar for home and community aged care providers held on Friday heard there had been “no specific” conversations regarding the sector.
Invited stakeholders from the aged home and community care sector at the webinar heard that rapid response teams would be made available to providers and that the government would guarantee an adequate supply of personal protective equipment.
Aged care minister Richard Colbeck was asked during the session when the government would also address the disability sector, amid claims some group homes were reporting they didn’t have any PPE.
Senator Colbeck it was an area “we’re going to have to consider as well”.
But he admitted there had not been any specific conversations at that stage.
“I haven’t had any specific conversations with my colleague (NDIS minister) Stuart Robert who oversights that but I certainly will,” Senator Colbeck said.
“My view would be that the foundation principles that we’re talking about through the disability sector would be no different to the types of conversations we’re having today through the delivery of home care and CHSP.
“Those sorts of conversations should be happening through the disability sector as well.”
Calls for more support
The Australian Services Union, National Disability Services, Health Services Union and the United Workers Union are all calling on the government to offer greater protection to people with disability and the 100,000 workers who support them.
“We are talking about people who may have complex needs, they may be at heightened risk of infection or rely on specialist daily help to dress or prepare a meal,” National Disability Services CEO David Moody said in a statement.
“It doesn’t take much to imagine what could happen if their support worker suddenly could not make it to their home, or if the virus broke out in a shared accommodation. The consequences will be deadly and wide-scale.
“Disability service providers are committed to supporting people with disability to lead great lives. Their ability to do so now, however, is being threatened by the virus’s spread.”
ASU assistant national secretary Linda White said plans were being outlined to prop up hospitals and aged care yet there was no strategy for disability.
Fear and uncertainty
Labor’s NDIS spokesman Bill Shorten says people with disability and their carers are afraid and uncertain and and is calling for them to be included in national coronavirus planning.
“One of the big issues on people’s minds today is what will the coronavirus mean for people with disability and the care they currently receive,” he told journalists in Darwin on Tuesday.
“They are scared that this virus and the necessary response could leave them isolated. Many people with disabilities have lower immunities, and if their carers aren’t able to get to them because they are in isolation, and they’re wondering what will happen to them.”
Australian Greens disability spokesperson Jordon Steele-John called for a meeting of state and territory health and disability ministers, disability organisations, advocates and the NDIS to outline the measures being taken to disabled people were not disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said the was hearing reports that some service providers were already beginning to wind down services.
“There has been no coordinated approach from the federal government into the impact of COVID-19 on disabled people and, frankly, a disturbing attitude of buck-passing in the context of wider economic concerns,” he said.
The Australian Coalition for Inclusive Education (ACIE) and Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) said a survey of 200 families found more than a third reported having support workers or other NDIS services cancelled.
NDIS minister to meet with stakeholders
When contacted for comment, Mr Robert told Community Care Review he was working closely with his cabinet colleagues, departments and agencies to support a coordinated approach to delivering essential NDIS services.
He said NDIS participants, families, carers and providers would be informed if services were disrupted in any way and would ensure they could continue to access supports.
“The Morrison Government has been meeting with stakeholders in preparation of escalation of incidence of COVID-19. I will be meeting with NDIS stakeholders over coming days to discuss these preparations,” he said.
“We have plans in place to ensure NDIS participants, providers and the NDIA are supported, and to ensure continuation of services in the case of an escalation in the incidence of COVID-19.”
Community Care Review understands the Disability Reform Council (DRC) of state, territory and federal disability ministers was meeting on Wednesday for the first time since COVID-19 arrived in Australia.
Update: The Disability Reform Council met by teleconference on Wednesday to discuss a national coronavirus response in relation to people with disability and the NDIS. The Council made a number of resolutions acknowledging challenges the pandemic presents to the sector and will meet again on April 6. You can read the council’s communique here.