David Harris with his sister Leanne (Image: Supplied)

An urgent state government review into the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), prompted by the death of South Australian woman Ann Marie Smith, has found huge gaps in the system. 

The final report is expected to include details on the death of David Harris, Crikey has been told, who died last year in NSW after being cut off from multiple disability support services. 

An inquest, taskforce and manslaughter investigation has been launched into Smith’s death, who had cerebral palsy and died this year after allegedly being left in the same chair in her home for a year. 

But in Harris’ home state, an inquest into his death has still not been launched. 

Stressed, anxious, and left with little information

Harris’ sister Leanne Longfellow told Crikey that more than a year after his death she still has few answers. Harris’ body was so decomposed, a coroner couldn’t determine a cause of death. There was no food in his fridge. His support workers had stopped visiting, and his NDIS funding had been cut off. 

An internal review by the coroner is scheduled for July 6, but it is still not known if a decision to launch an inquiry will be made then. 

“I feel like the burden is on me to be the detective,” Longfellow said

“I wish I could just hand it over and know it was being dealt with … I have just been so anxious that people are not looking at it closely and not giving it the attention it needs.”

What did the report say? 

The South Australian government’s safeguarding taskforce interim report identified 12 safeguarding gaps and made five recommendations. Eight gaps related to the federally-run NDIS, while four were state-specific.

Gaps included the need to better identify vulnerable people, ensure they had connections to the community, and have regular health checks. It also found in-home workers needed supervision and better screening, and the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission complaints process needed improvement.

Director of media and communications for People with Disability Australia El Gibbs told Crikey the findings weren’t a surprise. 

“These recommendations echo many other recommendations from many other inquiries, into preventing violence, improving the NDIS and how people with disability access healthcare,” she said.

Gibbs added NSW was falling behind in disability care. 

“The state government has also moved away from all disability service provision, and independent disability advocacy services are under a cloud with funding only guaranteed to the end of 2020,” she said.

“All state and territory governments have a responsibility to provide services to people with disability, both those who have NDIS plans, and the 90% who don’t.”

The taskforce’s final report is due on July 31. Details of Harris’ death is expected to be included in the appendix of the report.  

Politicians call for more 

NSW shadow minister for disability and inclusion Penny Sharpe told Crikey gaps identified in the report needed to be addressed. 

“These need to be looked at from a state perspective,” she said. “There’s a role of the state government [to address these gaps]. No one should be falling through the cracks.”

Both Sharpe and federal shadow minister for the NDIS Bill Shorten called for an inquest into Harris’ death. 

“South Australia’s interim report directly notes there are federal problems which need to be investigated and addressed,” Shorten told Crikey.

“These deaths by neglect are a national crisis caused by seven years of neglect of the NDIS and the active removal of $4.6b from the scheme and failures of oversight by the NDIS watchdog.”

NSW Minister for Disability Services Gareth Ward declined to comment.

Disability Discrimination Commissioner Ben Gauntlett told Crikey no one should have to wait for help.

“We need to have policies that ensure individuals with complex support needs are looked after by creating policies that do not rely upon people requesting help,” he said.

“As a society, it is not enough for us to say, ‘we’ll learn from this’. We must do better.”

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