Disability Royal Commission Public Hearing COVID-19 Report

The Australian Government welcomes the COVID-19 report of the Disability Royal Commission.

The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has seen significant challenges in the way all Australians live our lives, however, the Government recognises the unique factors that need to be considered when managing the health care needs of people with disability.

One of our most important tasks during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic has been protecting those with disability.

To that end, it is a profoundly important human outcome that we have been able to keep Australians with disability overwhelmingly safe with significantly lower positive case numbers and lives lost in the disability community, than in the broader Australian population, which itself has been one of the strongest outcomes in the world.

Through the course of the pandemic, Australia has had 108 cases of COVID diagnosed per 100,000 people for the general population. By comparison, 43.4 cases per 100,000 people have been diagnosed for NDIS participants which is less than half of the national rate.

Each life lost is an agonising tragedy. In this context we owe a debt of gratitude to our carers, health workers and support community for ensuring that our rate of 2.18 lives lost per 100,000 NDIS participants is over 40% below our national loss of life, 3.6% lives lost per 100,000 Australians.

Australia acted swiftly in responding to protecting both the overall population and in particular our most vulnerable Australians.

Based on our best advice, Australia was one the two earliest nations to have a special, dedicated COVID response plan for our disability community. From very early on we took action.

Minister for Health Greg Hunt said the Government acknowledged people living with disability often have specific health needs, which is particularly pertinent in the context of a global pandemic.

“This is why the Australian Government through February, March and April acted early on disability consultation and led the establishment of the Management and Operational Plan for COVID-19 for People with Disability (April), which provides a targeted response for people with disability, their families, carers and support workers,” Minister Hunt said.

“The development of this plan involved significant collaboration between governments at all levels, disability and health sectors, academics and people with disability.”

“New flexible approaches for service delivery such as telehealth, home medicines delivery and infection training has changed the landscape of the health care sector.”

“We also continue our work with jurisdictions to ensure flexible testing arrangements for people with disability and continued access to personal protective equipment (PPE).”

“Since the pandemic began, the Department of Health, through the National Medical Stockpile, dispatched over 690,000 masks, 30,000 gloves, 85,000 goggles and face shields to the NDIA and to individual NDIS participants. This is in addition to the 29 July announcement which allowed NDIS participants and providers to claim the cost of PPE from the NDIA, in designated hotspots,” Minister Hunt said.

Minister for Social Services, Anne Ruston, said the Commonwealth worked quickly and collaboratively with people with disability and their representative organisations, service providers, state and territory governments and health authorities in response to the COVID19 pandemic.

“The Government established the COVID-19 Disability Information Helpline, introduced measures to meet the immediate needs of National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants and provided additional disability employment support,” Minister Ruston said.

“This year we have committed about $46 million to disability advocacy and representative organisations, including funding specifically earmarked to support organisations provide the Government with information about emerging issues affecting the sector during the pandemic.”

Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme Stuart Robert said the Commonwealth’s response to the pandemic for NDIS participants was swift and ongoing.

“The Government commenced planning for issues of disability when COVID started striking in February. Disability ministers from around the country gathered on 18 March, and we’ve gathered four times throughout the pandemic to ensure the needs of people with disability are considered and responded to quickly,” Minister Robert said.

“The NDIA rapidly implemented a range of temporary measures to support NDIS participants, such as providing low-cost assistive technology, including smart devices, so participants could access telehealth services; the ability to claim for the cost of PPE; and greater plan flexibility.”

“The NDIA also made over 81,000 proactive outreach calls to vulnerable participants across Australia and paid more than $666 million in advance payments to more than 5,000 NDIS providers, ensuring much needed financial supports and continuity of services.”

“In Victoria and, more recently, in South Australia, the NDIA and the Government were able to be agile to ensure the health and wellbeing of NDIS participants by turning on these temporary measures. Should community outbreaks occur in the future, the Government has the appropriate governance and structures in place to respond flexibly as circumstances require, consistent with public health orders.”

“The Government continues to identify and strengthen our systems and processes and bolster support for at-risk NDIS participants and other vulnerable groups,” Minister Robert said.

The Australian Government will work across relevant portfolios and Ministers to respond to the Commission’s recommendations as a matter of priority.

DRC Covid-19 report: key statistics

DRC Covid-19 report Key statistics
Australians with COVID 27,582 cases of COVID-19 in Australia, including 907 deaths (at 30 October 2020).
108 cases per 100,000 people (based on 25.5m pop)

3.6 deaths per 100,000 people (based on 25.5m pop)

NDIS participants with COVID (30 Sept) 179 participants tested positive 9 participant deaths

412, 543 total participants

43.6 cases per 100,000 NDIS participants

2.19 deaths per 100,000 NDIS participants

Total NDIS workers testing positive for COVID-19 (30 Sept) 215 people tested positive 1worker death

Total workers – estimated at around 200,000 FTE

% of NDIS participants tested positive for COVID-19 (30 Sept) 0.04%
% of NDIS participant deaths from COVID-19 (30 Sept) 0.002%

COVID-19: support for people with a disability

Date COVID-19: support for people with a disability
18 February The Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) was released, which expressly addresses the needs of vulnerable groups (chapter 6).
5 March Minister Robert wrote to NDIA and Services Australia to request planning for COVID response
5 March Disability COVID taskforce setup in NDIA
11 March Prime Minister Scott Morrison announces a comprehensive $2.4 billion health package to protect all Australians, including vulnerable groups and people with a disability, from COVID-19.
13 March Residential aged care facilities guidelines were released. This supports young people living in residential aged care facilities.
13 March The Commonwealth Government implements a dedicated MBS item for pathology tests for COVID-19. This is to ensure access to rapid COVID testing. MBS funded pathology tests for COVID-19 can be requested by all medical practitioners and must be bulk billed, that is provided at no cost to the patient.
16 March Minister Ruston and the Department of Social Services held a round table with about 10 Disability Representative Organisations (DROs) to discuss responses to COVID-19.
16 March Online COVID-19 infection prevention and control training for care workers, including disability care workers, went live.
18 March Extraordinary meeting of DRC (Disability Ministers) to discuss COVID 19 response. Also met on:

  • 9 April 2020,
  • 11 May 2020; and
  • 24 July 2020.

Health officials attended 18 March meeting to outline current guidance and access to infection prevention control training and National Medical Stockpile.

19 March Minister Ruston held a Carer Gateway Service Providers COVID-19 Update with the CEOs from 10 peak organisations.
29 March Australian Government announces a range of mental health supports to help Australians through COVID including:

  • $14M to bolster the capacity of digital and telephone mental health services to provide additional support to vulnerable populations including people with complex mental health needs
  • $28.4M to allow an additional year for people with a psychosocial disability to transition to the NDIS
30 March Minister Ruston held a COVID-19 roundtable with about a dozen Australian Disability Enterprises.
31 March Minister Ruston met with Disability Discrimination Commissioner Ben Gauntlett.
2 April The Advisory Committee on the Health Emergency Response to Coronavirus (COVID-19) for People with Disability was established.
3 April Ministers Hunt, Roberts and Ruston announced that the Australian Government would urgently develop a response plan to focus on people with disability during coronavirus.
5 April NDIS participants to receive priority home delivery from some of Australia’s leading supermarkets.
9 April $90.7 million announced to support people with disability as part of a broader community support package, including the establishment of a dedicated phone line for people with disability.
9 April DRC meeting (Disability Ministers) met to discuss response to COVID.
16 April National Cabinet agreed to release the COVID-19 Management and Operational Plan for People with Disability.
17 April The Australian Government’s Management and Operational Plan for COVID-19 for People with Disability (the Plan) was released.
23 April Announced changes to student visa work conditions to ensure continuity of health workforce, including in the disability sector.
27 April New support items available for SIL providers where an NDIS participant is diagnosed with COVID-19, flexibility to purchase of low cost AT and downloadable access request forms to ensure eligible Australians can continue to apply for access to the NDIS.
1 May Minister Ruston and the Department of Social Services held a round table with about 10 Disability Representative Organisations (DROs) to discuss responses to COVID-19.
11 May Disability Ministers Meetings (all State and Territory ministers) to coordinate COVID response.
15 May National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan announced with specific funding to support vulnerable groups including mental health and wellbeing of carers.
12 June The NDIS moved to a post-pandemic phase from 1 July 2020, including the conclusion of some temporary measures.
17 July Minister Hunt announces 1 million masks from National Medical Stockpile for disability care workers in Victoria.
24 July DRC – Disability Ministers met to discuss response to COVID
29 July Allowing participants and providers in NSW and Victoria to claim the cost of PPE and access additional cleaning supports.
11 August Proactive outreach to NDIS providers, measures to ensure workforce supply and mechanism for a clinical first response for cases or outbreaks amongst providers and/or residential care settings.
19 August Daily publication of data on COVID-19 infection rates for NDIS participants and workers commenced.
21 August NDIS providers in Victoria and NSW can directly claim the costs of PPE from the NDIA through an hourly allowance. Victorian Government announced the establishment of the Disability Response Centre to coordinate and manage outbreaks and keep residents safe.
22 August Participant and provider access to PPE extended to restricted areas of Queensland.
4 September Australian and Victorian Government provide $15 million Mobility Reduction Payment for NDIS providers to reduce the movement of support workers between residential disability facilities.
8 September The third iteration of the Disability Operational and Management Plan was endorsed by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.
A substantial number of actions have been implemented under the Plan, including:

  • publishing the Coronavirus: Outbreak preparedness, prevention and management guidelines for National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) providers;
  • producing COVID-19 infection control training for care workers across all health care settings, including disability;
  • publishing guidance materials on testing, returning to school and individual COVID 19 health plans as well as guidance for in-home providers, health professionals, carers and support workers; and
  • establishing the COVID-19 Health Professionals Disability Advisory Service helpline.
2 October Minister Robert announced extension of temporary COVID measures until 28 February 2021.
30 November As at 30 November, the Department of Health, through the National Medical Stockpile, has dispatched approximately 600,000 masks, 40,000 gloves, 10,000 gowns, 45,000 goggles and face shields to the NDIA and to individual NDIS participants.

Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Management and Operational Plan for People with Disability – List of participants

Organisation Name, Position
Australian Association of Developmental Disability Medicine Dr Jacqueline Small, President
Allied Health Professions Australia Ms Claire Hewat, CEO
Mother of a person with intellectual disability; Chair of Down Syndrome Tasmania Dr Rebecca Kelly
Council for Intellectual Disability Mr Jim Simpson, Senior Advocate
First People’s Disability Network Mr Damian Griffis, CEO
Get Skilled Access Ms Dani Fraillon Chief Operating Officer
Northcott Ms Kerry Stubbs, Ex Managing Director
NSW Central Coast Local Health District Ms Jenny Martin Director, Allied Health
Office for Disability ACT Ms Ellen Dunne PSM Executive Branch Manager
People with Disability Australia Ms Romola Hollywood, Director Policy and Advocacy
Summer Foundation Dr George Taleporos Policy Manager
University of Melbourne Professor Anne Kavanagh Chair of Disability and Health
University of NSW Professor Julian Trollor, Head, Department of Developmental Disability Psychiatry
Department of Health Mr Simon Cotterell PSM (Chair) First Assistant Secretary, Primary Care Division
Department of Health Dr Anne-marie Boxall Assistant Secretary, Allied Health and Service Integration Branch
Department of Health Professor Nick Lennox Queensland Centre for Intellectual and Developmental Disability
Department of Social Services Ms Valerie Spencer Branch Manager, Market Quality
National Disability Insurance Agency Ms Chris Faulkner General Manager, National Disability Insurance Agency
NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission Ms Samantha Taylor, Registrar
Australian Human Rights Commission Dr Ben Gauntlett, Disability Discrimination Commissioner
ACT Health Directorate Ms Wendy Kipling
NSW Ministry of Health Ms Sarah Morton Director, Disability, Youth and Paediatric Health
Family and Community Services, NSW Brian Woods Family and Community Services, NSW
NT Health Ms Samantha Livesley Senior Director, Office of Disability
Queensland Health Troy Hakala, Social Worker, Health, Equity and Access Unit, Metro South Health and Hospital Service
Queensland Health Ms Melanie Nicholls Manager, Disability and Multicultural Unit, Strategic Policy and Legislation Branch, Strategy Policy and Planning Division
Queensland Department of Communities, Disability Services and Seniors Ms Liz Bianchi Executive Director
South Australia Department of Human Services Ms Ksharmra Brandon Director, Disability Access and Inclusion, South Australia Department of Human Services
South Australia Department of Human Services Ms Sally Cunningham Manager, Intergovernmental Relations, Disability Access and Inclusion
Department of Communities Tasmania Ms Ingrid Ganley Director, Disability and Community Services
Department of Health Tasmania Mrs Kendra Strong Chief Allied health Advisor
Department of Health and Human Services Victoria Ms Edwina Mason Acting Assistant Director, Mainstream Interface and Disability Justice
Department of Health and Human Services Victoria Ms Lorraine Langley Director, Mainstream Interface and Disability Justice
Department of Health and Human Services Victoria Ms Louise Galloway Director, Primary Care, Dental and Drugs, Health & Wellbeing Division
WA Department of Health Ms Jennifer Campbell Chief Allied Health Officer, Clinical Excellence Division
Communities WA Ms Catherine Parker
Communities WA Ms Jennifer Lewis


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