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NDIS Commission lacks power to investigate Adelaide disability 'neglect' case

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The independent disability watchdog has revealed it doesn’t have the power to fully investigate the circumstances around the alleged neglect of a man in a State Government-run facility, who remains in hospital more than a month after paramedics were called in.

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Disability neglect concerns

The case was referred to the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission but the Commission has told InDaily it has no power to investigate services provided by state governments.

Advocates are concerned there will be no independent answers into what went wrong, leaving other vulnerable people at risk.

But the State Government says the matter is now being “independently investigated by the Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner”.

As InDaily revealed last month, the South Australian Department of Human Services launched an internal inquiry after a man at its transitional residential service at Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre at Northfield was taken to hospital by ambulance in a state of “neglect”.

More than a month later, the man is still being treated at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

As well as conducting its own inquiry, the Department of Human Services (DHS) also reported the matter to the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission which says it is still “assessing” the complaint but has limitations on what it can investigate.

“The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission (NDIS Commission) regulates the provision of supports and services funded under the National Disability Insurance Scheme and can investigate any NDIS provider where there is a suspicion that there may be a breach of the NDIS Code of Conduct,” a spokesperson said.

“However services provided by state and territory governments are not within the jurisdiction of the NDIS Commission.”

The service in question – called Transition to Home – is run by the SA Department of Human Services.

InDaily understands that ambulance officers and several clinicians at the Royal Adelaide Hospital made complaints about the man’s condition.

One doctor told management the concerns centred around “basic hygiene and care, including wound care”.

DHS says the man was receiving wound management from a registered NDIS provider, and visits from a GP, while at the facility.

The spokesperson for the NDIS Commission said the Commission “is aware that this matter is under investigation by the SA Department of Human Services and has been referred to the Adult Safeguarding Unit”.

“It is also being assessed by the NDIS Commission,” the spokesperson said.

“The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission (NDIS Commission) continues to work with all relevant parties and are reviewing the circumstances, to determine any aspects that require further investigation.

“The NDIS Commission is unable to comment further.”

InDaily asked the Department of Human Services how the investigation was going, what concerns had been identified and whether any third parties were being investigated.

The department said its incident management unit was liaising with SA Ambulance, SA Health and the client’s family to gather further evidence.

“The investigation is ongoing,” a spokesperson said.

It’s a bit like the police investigating themselves

Citizen Advocacy South Australia program manager Rosey Olbrycht said it was alarming that the NDIS Commission had no powers to investigate state-run facilities and questioned how any independent scrutiny could occur.

“It’s a real anomaly that the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission has jurisdiction over other providers but not a major provider like state-run DHS services,” she said.

“It’s clear that there are many issues within the DHS services but there doesn’t seem to be any transparent mechanism for dealing with them.”

Olbrycht said having a government department investigate its own service just doesn’t seem right”.

“It’s a bit like the police investigating themselves,” she said.

“If it’s an internal investigation, there’s always going to be conflict of interest. Where is that independent jurisdiction?

“We all thought it was with the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission. We are really shocked that they don’t because we don’t know now who does.

“We’ve got advocates who are trying to deal with state-funded issues and are getting nowhere.

“It’s a problem.”

Olbrycht said “the NDIS needs to be given teeth”.

“For people who are vulnerable in our communities, the NDIS is only part of the story, it’s not the whole story,” she said.

“There are plenty of people who don’t get NDIS support who are also vulnerable.”

Olbrycht said she was concerned this matter and others wouldn’t be properly investigated and that failings could be hidden.

“The risk is that vulnerable people continue to be really vulnerable,” she said.

Olbrycht said it was “disturbing” that there were still no answers more than a month after the man was taken to hospital.

“Absolutely we should have heard,” she said.

“There should have been some public announcement about what’s happened here. I understand the need to keep the man’s identity private but the issue needs to be transparent.

“They can do that without identifying the person involved.”

The risk is that vulnerable people continue to be really vulnerable

The Disability Rights Advocacy Service said it was also concerned there were still no answers about the circumstances that led to the man’s poor condition in a government-run facility.

“It is over a month since the gentleman involved in this matter was rushed to hospital and critical information is still not available about what went wrong,” said the organisation’s Disability Royal Commission advocacy coordinator, Angela Duigan.

“The South Australian community has the right to expect that our most vulnerable South Australians are being cared for in the best way possible.”

Duigan said the NDIS Commission’s lack of power to fully investigate was worrying.

“The delay in information being provided about what went wrong for this man could mean that other vulnerable people are currently facing the same risk,” she said.

“We would be keen to see strong recommendations about how we can make sure that incidents like this don’t occur in the future and for government to support any positive changes being put in place as soon as possible.

“With incidents like this still happening, it is clear that there needs to be a proper, independent oversight of those charged with the responsibility of caring for vulnerable people in our community.

“The delay in providing answers about this matter further highlights the on-going problems within the current system.”

The 24-bed Transition to Home program, where the man was being care for, was opened at Hampstead in March last year at the start of the pandemic, to house people with disabilities discharged from hospital and awaiting more permanent accommodation.

SA Health owns Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre but the Transition to Home program is managed by the Department of Human Services.

Opposition health spokesperson Chris Picton reiterated calls for a full independent investigation.

“It’s completely unacceptable the government are trying to hush this up with an internal review rather than a proper independent investigation,” he said.

“Nothing short of a full independent investigation is needed to get to the bottom of the (alleged) neglect of care in this government facility.

“We must find out who was responsible for setting up this inadequate service, how many patients have been neglected, and what action will be taken regarding those responsible.

“How is it possible that so soon after the Annie Smith case that a government run facility could neglect its patients? We will keep pushing for answers and accountability for these failures.”

Opposition human services spokesperson Nat Cook said “when a temporary solution is used as a stop gap rather than putting in place a permanent and safe set of options vulnerable people are put at risk”.

“It’s clear that duty of care has not been met in this case which has led to a terrible outcome for this person in a facility operated by the Marshall Liberal Government,” she said.

This afternoon, a spokesperson for Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink said: “Labor once again need to check their facts – the matter is being independently investigated by the Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner (HCSCC).”

“The department has also notified the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission,” the spokesperson said.

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