THE NDIS – a toe in the water

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) began in earnest on 1 July. Nationally this has not been without controversy.  The IT system supporting the roll-out has had major teething troubles meaning many providers have been left unpaid for considerable periods of time. More recently disquiet has emerged from the ACT where intake has been temporarily suspended as a result of greater than anticipated numbers seeking to access the scheme.

Even without these issues, the inclusion of participants with mental health issues (psychosocial disabilities) has been problematic.  Not only is psychosocial disability a late (and initially un-thought-of) inclusion in the NDIS, it comes with a range of challenges both practical and philosophical.  These include:

  • the deficit-based language of the NDIS and the concept of ’permanent disability’ vs the concept of recovery widely used in mental health
  • an unwillingness of younger participants with mental health issues to ’sign up’ to being classified as permanently disabled
  • a lack of understanding from both participants and clinicians about how mental health fits into the NDIS
  • a lack of knowledge and skills within the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) to meet the specific needs of psychosocial participants.

Despite these issues, there is room for considerable hope. In the UK, where a similar scheme has already been rolled out, participants achieved improved physical health and mental wellbeing as well as greater independence and more support.

Similarly RFT’s first interaction with the NDIS has been extremely positive and has shown us how the scheme can make a positive difference to the lives of consumers. Our first participant is a young man called Adam [not his real name], who had already been in our residential program for about three years. Adam has a diagnosis which meant that any change of routine could be difficult and anxiety provoking, and he came to RFT timid and isolated.   His goals were to increase his independent living skills, decrease his social anxiety and investigate returning to study.

As Adam became involved in activities offered through the RFT Recreation and Life Skills Program, he began to improve many of his life skills. RFT then supported Adam to make a successful application for NDIS funding; this funding allowed Adam to engage an RFT worker, Tom [also not his real name], on a one-to-one basis, something that until now had not been possible.  With Tom’s support, Adam has increased his understanding of a healthy diet, learned to budget for himself, and found ways to keep socially active, including joining a softball team and regularly volunteering with the Salvos. Adam’s opportunities continue to expand with the extra support provided by his NDIS package. He recently enrolled in TasTAFE, and is now confident enough to move into a place of his own. He will continue to receive support from the same RFT worker in this new environment ensuring that he is still well supported.

The extra NDIS support for Adam has made all the difference and will have long term dividends for Adam as an individual, and for all of us as a society. Here at RFT it gives us hope that the scheme really can deliver the benefits which it promises, and we are looking forward to many more opportunities to support and work with NDIS participants.

Lynn Jarvis

(Acting) Chief Executive