There are few words that stir up more stress and emotion in NDIS Providers than the "P-word"- Portal. And while it is true that things are definitely better than they were in the past, in this case, that really is not saying much. That is why we are glad to have the opportunity to report some good news. As of today, some long-awaited changes will be implemented in the Portal world.
Participants and providers now have more control over service bookings in the Portal. They can:
Edit or delete service bookings
Make adjustments to the price, duration and quantity of a service booking
Instantly cancel service bookings
Reject changes to service bookings with an explanatory note so that nobody gets hurt feelings.
In the past, amendments like these needed to be processed by NDIA. Let’s face it, any reform that reduces your reliance on NDIA to get something done is ultimately welcome. But the benefit goes beyond that. If providers and plan managers can make changes to service bookings with relative ease, then this allows them to support Participants to use their Plan flexibly. Items in service bookings are now far less locked in than they were in the past, allowing Participants to change their supports as their circumstances, goals and ideas develop.
Desperately needed upgrades have also been made to the Provider Finder, the online tool that Participants can use to discover providers. It has been promised that the new features will:
Make it easier for Participants to find providers, their location, availability, and opening hours.
Allow Participants to find providers in their preferred locations.
Include a mapping tool that shows the location of providers.
Allow Participants to search for providers beyond the current 50km limit. This feature will be particularly useful for people in rural areas.
Improve accessibility with guided help text.
Improve usability with a sexy new design. (Okay, truthfully they in no way promised it would be sexy).
A useful, functioning Provider Finder is incredibly important for the 59% of Participants who do not have support coordination in their Plan (and for support coordinators themselves). Plan utilisation rates were only 66% in 2016-2017, indicating that Participants are indeed having difficulty locating providers that they can spend their funds on. Participant outcomes are thus compromised, as they are not accessing the supports they are entitled to. Providers naturally also benefit when Participants have an easier time finding them.
There is, of course, one pretty significant caveat to the excitement generated by these reforms- we have no idea if any of it is going to work. Given the government’s track record, it probably won’t. Not the first time at least. However, it is still promising to see that the NDIA has recognised some of the very real problems with the Portal and is implementing a plan to address them. And we are promised that this is only the beginning. Frankly, if the whole Portal becomes an unrecognisable, ghost of its past self, this can hardly be a bad thing. This is a gift for Christmas in July. As with all gifts, it may well be something we come to despise, but we can still all appreciate the spirit in which it has been given.