Hearing Services under the NDIS

28 February 2017

In his first blog post our CEO, Michael Forwood, addresses the most important thing happening in Australia at the moment for hearing-impaired children and their families, and service providers; the roll-out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

While this has the potential to consolidate and improve current services and outcomes, there are still many challenges facing the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) in designing and implementing this major social reform within the set time frame and available resources.

The Cora Barclay Centre is located in the NDIS Children’s Trial Site in South Australia and has 3 ½ years of hands-on experience in working with the NDIA and its client families to identify and resolve problems. We are an NDIS service provider in South Australia and currently have 150 of our 240 clients in the NDIS with many more to join the new scheme by the end of 2017.

The Centre is working hard with other service providers, advocacy groups and interested parties to ensure that communication, education, social participation and employment outcomes for children who are deaf or hearing impaired are not diminished under the NDIS. The Centre warmly welcomed the decision of the Federal Parliament Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS to conduct an inquiry into the provision of hearing services under the NDIS.

On Monday, 20 February 2017 as CEO of the Cora Barclay Centre I was privileged to give evidence at a public hearing of the Federal Parliament Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS inquiry into the provision of hearing services under the NDIS.

The Committee is inquiring into a range of concerns raised by service providers and families about hearing services under the NDIS. Concerns include eligibility criteria, delays in referral to early intervention services, quality assurance, funding levels, access to services in rural and remote areas and indigenous hearing health.

The Committee heard that Australia is a world leader in services and outcomes for hearing-impaired children thanks to its service model which delivers early detection and diagnosis of hearing loss, universal and timely access to hearing aids and cochlear implants, and quality service provision by expert early intervention service providers with proven outcomes.

Positive outcomes for Australian children who are deaf or hearing impaired include:

  • development of excellent communication skills in early childhood - on a par with children with normal hearing,
  • high rates of school completion, higher education, social participation and employment.

A recent survey of graduates from listening and spoken language early intervention programs (including our Centre) show that:

  • 95% had attended mainstream high schools,
  • 86% completed Year 12,
  • 82% had been accepted into post-secondary studies,
  • 62% have a tertiary level qualification, and
  • 77% have been in regular paid employment.

Furthermore, recent cost benefit analysis studies in Australia and the UK show that these programs are excellent value for money and have a positive benefit to cost ratio of more than $2 return for every $1 invested.

Representatives from service providers, professional associations and consumer advocacy bodies at the Joint Standing Committee public hearing all stressed the importance of maintaining and strengthening our current services model under the NDIS. This would mean formal adoption of evidence-based, clinical protocols and adequate funding to NDIS participants to meet early intervention service costs.

After initial opening remarks, discussion quickly focused on a small number of immediately pressing issues arising from the 3-year NDIS trial period. These were:

  • the need for all children with permanent hearing loss to be eligible for the NDIS, including children with unilateral hearing loss,
  • mechanisms for avoiding delay between diagnosis and commencement of early intervention services,
  • ways of improving access to services for people living in rural and remote areas, including indigenous communities, and
  • the need for improved funding for families to ensure services and programs are maintained at current levels.

It was clear from the discussion that the Committee heard the message loud and clear about the emerging problems of operating under a disability scheme with a very different focus to the health system arrangements to which everyone has been accustomed. It often feels like we are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

The Committee hands down its report on 23 March 2017 and it is to be hoped that its recommendations will assist the Government and the NDIA in getting things back on track.

My intention is to provide regular updates on the roll-out of the NDIS and the status of the main issues – so hopefully I’ll be reporting some positive news soon.

Cora Barclay Centre CEO, Michael ForwoodMichael Forwood
CEO, Cora Barclay Centre 


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