Kymberly Martin

NDS report: 2021 a difficult year for service providers

The disability sector is struggling with service providers “seriously concerned” about the future, data from the annual National Disability Services State of the Disability Sector Report has revealed.

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Three words came to the fore in the report: ‘pessimism, frustration and distress’, with at least four causes at the centre of concern. These are: the National Disability Insurance Agency, financial worries, staff shortages and innovation.

Firstly, the NDIA with just 12 per cent responding that the agency works well with providers, less than half of the number from last year; 59 per cent feel that it imposes ‘too many unnecessary rules and regulations’, and even more object to its ‘systems and processes’. As for the NDIS policy reforms that are underway, only 25 per cent feel that these are heading in the right direction.

While trading conditions and business sentiment recover, there is a deep sense of financial pessimism for the disability sector with 65 per cent of providers saying that operating conditions are getting worse, up from 61 per cent in 2020 and 38 per cent in 2019. And only 57 per cent of those that recorded a profit in 2021 expected to make a profit in 2022.

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Recruiting and retaining workers has been an issue for all industries this year. In the latest ABS survey, 27 per cent of Australian businesses reported difficulty finding staff but the disability sector seems to be doing it tough, with 70 per cent of providers reporting problems recruiting support workers, up from 59 per cent in 2020. In 2021, it was harder to recruit occupational therapists and disability support workers while recruitment of speech therapists, psychologists and physiotherapists remains challenging.

Finally, innovation and how the current system is failing to provide conditions that enable it to flourish. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that pricing arrangements together with a general sense of policy uncertainty, have made it difficult for providers to think far ahead, or invest in the future.

However, NDS interim CEO Laurie Leigh believes there is a way out of this predicament.

“We need to understand that the system is made up of the NDIA, participants and providers. Providers should be proactively engaged by the NDIA to build collaboratively a system that works to deliver the services needed by people with a disability.”

Co-designing the scheme with participants and providers, creating a transparent model, and holding all governments to account for the outcomes are just three of the 11 action points the report underlines.

“It’s important something is done now to correct these issues, because it’s been a difficult year for disability service providers and most expect 2022 to be worse,” Leigh said.

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