Creativity In The Eye Of The NDIS Storm

We have very little control over change. In a few short years, our external environment radically altered and even those of us who had advocated for the NDIS from the beginning now hold very little control over the path it takes. But transition, as always, is a choice. As the ground slides beneath our feet we all have a split second to decide- do we move with it or do we fall?

By now, nearly all of us have begun our transition. Any delusions we might have had that it will be easy have been firmly put to rest. Without any doubt, the road we are on is a hard one. That is why we wanted to use our Annual DSC Provider Awards to celebrate providers who have created an opportunity out of these challenges. Not only as a way to applaud their achievements, but to demonstrate to all of us what is possible.

With that in mind, we are pleased to announce that the winner of the 2018 DSC Provider Award for NDIS Organisational Transition is The Motor Neurone Disease Association (MND) of NSW.  

MND NSW did not have the most intuitive path into the NDIS. MND is a rapidly progressing disease, but the NDIS is not a rapidly moving support service. There can be months of delay between Participants first making contact with the Agency and receiving their first Plan. Even once they have received a Plan, it is not necessarily smooth sailing from there. A Participant’s support needs are likely to change far more quickly than the snail paced NDIS Plan Review process. In short, the NDIS bureaucracy is just not designed to move at the speed necessary to meet the needs of people with MND.  

But despite all this, as long time advocates for individualised funding, MND NSW welcomed the arrival of the NDIS. It was not as though they had a lot to lose. Under the old state funding system money was very tight, especially for assistive technology. So what could the NDIS be but an opportunity? With hope, they joined the first group of providers and Participants at the Hunter trial site of NSW, and waited for history to happen.

It was heartening to see MND NSW being nominated for this award by an allied health professional who works for another provider. Through an information line, online education, workshops, Advisor and Coordinator of Support services, a newsletter and conferences, MND NSW provides training for allied health professionals on supporting people with MND. The therapist who nominated them felt that the assistive technology and the support for professionals that MND NSW provides has allowed her to improve the services she herself delivers. It goes to show that even in a competitive market, there is cumulative value in provider cooperation.

A driving force behind MND NSW receiving this prize was their formation of the innovative service FlexEquip. Receiving assistive technology from the NDIS is an extremely long, time consuming and difficult process. But people with progressive neurological conditions do not have time to be patient. Their conditions require action, fast. So FlexEquip is an assistive technology rental service. MND NSW have negotiated with the Agency to allow people with progressive neurological conditions in NSW or ACT to be funded for an assistive technology bundle package in their Plan. For the price of this bundle package, Participants can rent any piece of equipment that they need that is stocked by MND NSW. This set up allows Participants to get life-changing equipment without being required to go through the tedious quotation process. As their needs change, they can swap items without being forced to undergo Plan Review. Amazingly, MND NSW can get equipment anywhere in the state within 5-7 days. If they have a referral from the appropriate allied health professional, people can even use the rental service for free before being granted access to the Scheme or receiving their first Plan.

Naturally, none of this could have been achieved without the active support and cooperation of the Agency. So it was necessary for MND NSW to engage in some serious advocacy. Thankfully, CEO Graham Opie told us that they found the NDIA quite receptive. The challenge was, and remains, ensuring that policies and practices agreed upon at the higher levels are implemented on the ground. Participants with MND are now all being Agency Planned, making it easier to ensure Planners have some understanding of this complex, but relatively rare, condition.

Very often, a provider’s role is to be a problem solver. You take a problem or a barrier that is hindering a Participant’s life, and you work with them to solve it. MND NSW did this on a massive scale. They caught on early to the constraints that the structure of the NDIS would place on their cohort. Through engagement with Participants, partners and the Agency, they found a creative solution. The result? Participants with MND do not even have to wait to access the Scheme before receiving the assistive technology that they need. Moreover, they know that the allied health professionals that support them will have a specialist understanding of their conditions and needs. MND NSW did not have the most intuitive path into the NDIS. Yet they forged a path that has not only been a triumph for the organisation, but has prevented the entire NDIS from failing people with MND. They changed the narrative, and by doing so, they wrote their own success story.