NT NDIS Participants and Disability Service Providers Report Concerns Over Funding Cuts

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Catherine Fielke describes the attempt to secure funding for her five-year-old son through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) as “a constant battle”.

“It’s honestly like a full-time job,” she said.

The Fielke family live in a small mining town called Nhulunbuy, about 1,000 kilometers east of Darwin.

In 2017, Mitchell was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Global Developmental Delay (GDD).

At the time of Mitchell’s diagnosis, Ms Fielke said Nhulunbuy did not have the services to meet her needs, so they started traveling to Sydney for intense therapy.

Nhulunbuy is home to Catherine, Brad and Jackson, 8, and Mitchell, 5, Fielke.(

Provided: Catherine Fielke

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The family had planned to travel to Sydney eight times in 2020 and 2021, but border closures and COVID-19 lockdowns meant they had only handled two trips.

This inability to travel meant that they had underestimated Mitchell’s NDIS plan.

And when Mitchell’s plan was reviewed in April, Ms Fielke said she was “horrified” to find their funding had been cut.

“We got a third of what we had last year; that didn’t even cover the quotes we had made for our local therapist,” Ms. Fielke said.

Disability service providers ‘very, very concerned’

Annie Rily, president of the NT Division of National Disability Services, said that while she was unaware of Mitchell’s specific case, she did know of other families facing similar issues.

“I know of many cases where services have been cut quite dramatically,” she said.

“Service cuts for NDIS participants are something of great concern to us as service providers. “

And Ms Rily said not all participants have the ability – or health literacy – to fight the system.

“Almost 49% of participants in the Northern Territory are Indigenous and 25% come from a diverse cultural or linguistic background,” she said.

“These populations find it much more difficult to navigate the NDIS system.”

A woman in a black dress looks seriously at the camera and smiles.
Ms Rily said NDIS plans should not be scrapped without consultation with service providers.(

ABC News: Michael Franchi

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Hospitalized patients awaiting NDIS funding

Experts also say the program is increasing pressure on NT’s already stressed hospital system.

“There are currently a number of people hospitalized at Royal Darwin and Palmerston Hospitals who have been found eligible for an NDIS package, but they have not been able to access funding to be able to discharge from the hospital,” Ms Rily says. .

Australasian College for Emergency Medicine president John Bonning said in some areas emergency departments were the only place available for patients who lived in communities without specialized support.

“This is not just happening in the NT, but across Australia, with the worst effects being felt in rural and regional areas,” he said.

Participants can request a review of the NDIS plan

A spokesperson for the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) – which provides NDIS – acknowledged the “historic challenges” faced by participants in rural and remote areas in accessing a range of services.

But the spokesperson said the agency was “committed to providing a consistent and quality experience for participants” regardless of where they live.

And while she couldn’t comment on Mitchell’s specific case, the spokesperson said that funding for a participant‘s plan could change for a variety of reasons, such as back to school.

A young boy in a school uniform laughs at the camera.
Mitchell Fielke’s mother, Catherine, says the five-year-old enjoys school and has lots of friends there.(

Provided: Catherine Fielke

)

She said anyone who believed that an NDIA decision might be wrong could request a reconsideration.

This is the process that Ms. Fielke is currently following.

She requested a review in April (which meant hiring a lawyer and getting more medical reports) and was told in August that Mitchell’s plan would be reviewed.

“During that time, we’ve already used up a lot of our funding that was given to us, and that funding was supposed to last for a year,” she said.


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