People With Severe Mental Illness Struggling With NDIS Transition
17 January 2018 at 5:58 pm
Concerns have been raised that people with severe mental health issues are “falling through the gaps” of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, as the government has acknowledged transition problems exist for many participants of a psychosocial disabilities support program.
The Personal Helpers and Mentors (PHaMs) service assists people impacted by severe mental illness, with workers providing practical assistance and helping participants to manage their everyday tasks.
With PHaMs services progressively transitioning to the NDIS, the federal government is reducing funding for the program under the assumption participants will receive an NDIS plan to access the service.
However the Department of Social Services (DSS) has revealed that about three quarters of PHaM participants expected to transition to the NDIS in the last financial year did not do so.
Responding to a Senate Estimates question from Greens Senator Rachel Siewert around PHaMs’ clients phasing into the NDIS, DSS acknowledged transition figures were “lower than expected”.
“The Department of Social Services estimated that 800 PHaMs clients would phase into the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in 2016-17, however the actual number receiving a plan was lower than expected,” DSS said.
“Transition to the NDIS extends until 30 June 2019 and further PHaMs clients are expected to transition over this period.”
As of 30 June last year, 231 PHaMs clients had been found ineligible for the NDIS, for reasons including include age, residency and not meeting disability requirements.
A total of 158 PHaMS clients had withdrawn access requests, 162 declined to transition into the scheme and 35 failed to return their access request forms.
Siewert told Pro Bono News that this response had her “really deeply concerned” about the state of mental health support with the NDIS.
“It’s an issue I’ve been following up and keeping an eye on for some time, both with PHaMs and Partners in Recovery, where the government has made a certain set of assumptions around who will transition in and the numbers that will transition in,” Siewert said.
“It’s part of an overall bigger problem when it comes to mental health and the NDIS as well… [and] although the government has allocated in the budget another $80 million over four years to be matched by states, that was a recognition that there were problems but it’s not enough funding to deal with the problems.
“If they had properly consulted the sector in the first place, the sector would have said ‘those assumptions are false’ because they had concerns right from the start around eligibility issues and people not trusting the system. And if you talk to mental health providers… they were aware there were going to be problems with people transitioning into the NDIS.”
Siewert said if the federal government did not change things, there would be “very significant issues”.
“I’ve heard from a lot of on-the-ground providers concerns that people are falling through the gaps and will continue to. We need some changes in [the government’s] approach and we need more funding,” she said.
“I’m deeply concerned that we’re going to see a stand-off yet again between the states and territories and the Commonwealth over whose responsibility it is.”
And while the Greens senator recognised that the NDIS was never designed to cover everybody with severe mental health issues, she said those with psychosocial disabilities needed to be supported.
“We need to make sure that people who need to get support for psychosocial disability are getting support and that those who are eligible can access the NDIS,” Siewert said.
“But then we also need to make sure we have properly funded and provided community mental health services so that people who are ineligible and don’t get access to the NDIS, do get access to mental health services.
“We need assertive outreach to make sure people are being properly engaged by the NDIA to get into the NDIS.”
This call has been echoed by Community Mental Health Australia (CMHA), whose 2018-19 Federal pre-budget submission called for NDIS and mental health reforms to ensure appropriate services were accessible for people living with mental health conditions.
“It is CMHA’s position that people living with a mental health condition or psychosocial disability must be able to access and receive appropriate, high quality and coordinated support regardless of where that support is provided – that is whether for they are eligible for the NDIS or not,” CMHA president Liz Crowther said.
In August 2017, a report from a parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on NDIS services for people with psychosocial disabilities included a number of recommendations, including that: “The Department of Social Services and the NDIA collaboratively develop a plan outlining how advocacy and assertive outreach services will be delivered beyond the transition arrangements to ensure people with a psychosocial disability… can effectively engage with the NDIS and/or other support programs.”
The federal government, led by DSS, said they were currently drafting a response to the Joint Standing Committee inquiry report.