NDIS Causing ‘Growing Catastrophe’ For Victorians With Severe Mental Illness
29 March 2018 at 1:54 pm
A new report has estimated that 90 per cent of Victorians living with severe mental illness will be worse off under the National Disability Insurance Scheme, with vital community support services set to be decommissioned to fund the initiative.
The University of Sydney report, commissioned by SalvoConnect and Mental Health Victoria, examined the experiences of consumers, carers, providers and advocacy groups in Victoria’s Barwon region – an NDIS pilot site.
It warned of a “growing catastrophe” for Victorians living with mental illness under the NDIS, with a gap set to be created in psychosocial disability services as community mental health programs are cut to fund the scheme.
As well as this, the report warned that many NDIS processes and practices were inappropriate and inaccessible, excluding those with psychosocial disability.
“It is important to say that NDIS support plans have been life changing for some. However, much needs to be done to enhance the accessibility, relevance and appropriateness of the scheme for people living with psychosocial disability,” the report said.
Lead author Dr Nicola Hancock said while the NDIS offered life-changing reform for about 10 per cent of Victorians with severe mental health issues, the vast majority would be worse off under the scheme.
“We heard repeatedly that Victorians with psychosocial disability struggled to apply for NDIS funding or were ruled ineligible. Many of those who were accepted received NDIS plans that were inappropriate and demonstrated poor understanding of the needs of people with mental illness,” Hancock said.
“We also heard repeated stories from family or carers on distressing efforts to navigate the system, bureaucracy and paperwork for their loved ones.”
And while these challenges have been shared across Australia during the NDIS rollout, the report noted that Victoria faced additional problems because of a “short-sighted, quick fix” funding deal that was leading to a loss of services.
The range of Victorian services set to disappear for people with a psychosocial disability include programs to manage their illness; to build capacity to live productive and meaningful lives; to meet, connect with, and learn from others with lived experience of mental illness; and to access and maintain housing.
“These de-funded programs are also the services that reduced the risk of people developing a long-term disability,” the report said.
“This method of funding the NDIS may well lead to a greater proportion of Victorians ultimately reaching the level of disability needed to qualify for the scheme.
“The solution is immediate and ongoing investment by the Victorian government in community mental health services.”
Mental Health Victoria CEO Angus Clelland said Victoria had gone from leading the way in mental health services in Australia to having the lowest per capita expenditure on mental health in the country.
“Without urgent action, Victorians with mental health issues will go without support until their issues escalate and an even greater burden of care will fall on our hospital emergency departments, the police and the justice system,” Clelland said.
However the Victorian Minister for Mental Health Martin Foley told Pro Bono News that Victorian mental health services were being expanded under the NDIS, not withdrawn.
“We have made it clear to the Commonwealth that the NDIS should not create a gap for Victorians who need psychosocial supports,” Foley said.
“Where there are gaps in the transition to a national scheme, we as a nation must work hard to fix them.
“We must deliver the NDIS as promised to meet the needs of eligible Australians with disabilities.”
To support Victorians with mental illness not engaged with or not eligible for NDIS support, the report called for “immediate investment in a short-term ‘safety net’ of psychosocial rehabilitation and long-term investment in community-based services”.
For Victorians living with psychosocial disability who were engaging with the NDIS, the report recommended a number policy solutions.
These included the implementation of a specialist psychosocial gateway for the NDIS, the establishment for a funding pool for specialist assessments required by National Disability Insurance Agency, and to design and deliver NDIS processes at a community level to “enhance NDIS accessibility and cultural relevance”.
Community Mental Health Australia president Elizabeth Crowther called on the Victorian and Commonwealth governments and the NDIA to urgently respond to the issues and recommendations from the report.
“The NDIA has started to engage expert stakeholders on some of the more pressing concerns, but this engagement has commenced much too late,” Crowther said.
“The Victorian and Commonwealth governments need to act now to reverse the growing catastrophe facing Victorians living with severe mental illness and the families and carers who support them.”