Disability service providers have delayed reporting the deaths of hundreds of people with disabilities to the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, the sector’s troubled watchdog, new data shows.
The NDIS watchdog receives reports of 11 deaths a week on average — but nearly 20% aren’t reported for more than five days.
Despite this, no providers were fined for not reporting the death in a timely manner as required by the commission.
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And while shocking, it’s hardly surprising: a Crikey Inq investigation in August revealed the commission was overwhelmed with complaints and was ineffective at dealing with them.
Preventable deaths all too common
People with disabilities die at 4.7 times the rate of the general population, a report released yesterday found. Of the 100,000 deaths between 2013 and 2018, 240 were potentially avoidable, a rate 3.6 times higher than the general population.
A previous study found 38% of deaths of people with intellectual disabilities could have been prevented.
Between the NDIS watchdog’s inception in July 2018 and June 30, 2020, it was notified of 1176 deaths — an average of 11 a week.
The high rate of preventable deaths should make reporting them to the commission a priority — but just 63% of deaths were reported within 24 hours, as is required by the commission. A further 18% were reported within five days; 215 deaths weren’t reported for more than five days.
Dr Margaret Nixon, an expert in disability criminology at Swinburne University, told Crikey the delay was representative of an overburdened disability sector.
“It’s hard to have a system that works properly without proper resourcing, staffing or advocacy,” she says, adding that accountability is complicated and not tracked well.
“This is how negligence happens — with no one noticing or paying attention.”
No repercussions for bad behaviour
The commission has the power to fine service providers and ban them from practising, but it seldom does.
Just one fine has been issued: $12,600 given to Integrity Care, the care provider of Ann Marie Smith. Smith’s death is subject to a criminal investigation and her carer has been charged with manslaughter.
Just 22 individuals and one organisation have been banned in two years despite thousands of complaints and tip-offs.
Labor’s spokesman on the NDIS, Bill Shorten, told Crikey the delays in reporting deaths and limited fines showed providers’ were not concerned about repercussions.
“After seven years of Coalition government only a toothless purse poodle — not a watchdog — stands between Australians with disability and neglect, abuse and death,” he says.
The week after Inq’s investigation, the commission went on a nationwide hiring spree for public sector staff (although it denied this was in response to the articles). An extra 100 staff has since been pledged by NDIS Minister Stuart Robert as well as an additional $92.9 million to the commission over the next four years.
The commission told Crikey people with disability have the right to complain about the services they receive.
Across two years from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2020, the commission received 8168 complaints — 5784 of which were under the its jurisdiction.
- 12% were about alleged abuse and neglect
- 52% were about provider practice
- 47% of people who complained had their cases closed with no further action
- 42% were given assistance — although as in the case of Georgi Hadden, who had her complaint closed after she left her providers’ care and declined to speak to management, its isn’t always up to par.
The commission employs 300 staff, receives $35 million a year, and has spent more than $1.5 million in travel since it was established, with staff spending more than $300,000 on meals and incidental costs.