Health of people with disability – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

People with disability generally use health services—such as general practitioners (GPs), medical specialists and hospital emergency departments—more than people without disability. At June 2018, 29% of NDIS participants aged 15–24 had been to hospital in the last 12 months (NDIA 2019b), compared with 7.9% of all Australians in this age group (ABS 2019e). Of those NDIS participants aged 15–24 who went to hospital, 52% had multiple visits (NDIA 2019b), compared with 22% of all Australians aged 15–24 (ABS 2019e).

In 2018, 60% of Australians with disability needed assistance with at least 1 activity of daily life. Of these, the most common form of assistance needed was with health care (30%). Among people with a profound limitation (around 610,000 people), 73% most needed assistance with health care. Of the people with disability needing assistance with health care, 55% received formal assistance and 49% received informal assistance (ABS 2019a).

Some people with disability experience difficulties in accessing health services, such as unacceptable or lengthy waiting times, cost, inaccessibility of buildings, and discrimination by health professionals. They may also experience issues caused by lack of communication between different health professionals who treat them.

Of people with disability in 2018, 12% avoided medical facilities because of their disability in the last 12 months (ABS 2019a). Difficulty accessing health care can vary with the extent or severity of disability (Table 1).

Table 1: Difficulties in accessing health services in last 12 months, by disability severity, 2018


With severe or profound disability (%)

With other forms of disability (%)

Had difficulty accessing medical facilities(a, b)



Experienced unfair treatment or discrimination from health staff (c)



Delayed or did not see a GP when needed, because of the cost(d)



Saw a GP but waited longer than they felt was acceptable to get an appointment(c)



Did not see a medical specialist when needed, because of the cost(d)



Saw a medical specialist but waited longer than they felt was acceptable to get an appointment(c)



Delayed or did not see a dental professional when needed, because of the cost(d)



On a public dental waiting list and still waiting to receive public dental care(d)



Delayed or did not go to hospital when needed, because of the cost(d)



Experienced issues caused by lack of communication among different health professionals when seeing 3 or more for the same condition(d)



(a) People who need assistance or have difficulty with communication or mobility because of disability

(b) People aged 5–64

(c) People aged 15–64 who had a personal interview

(d) People aged under 65

* Estimate has a relative standard error of 25–50% and should be used with caution.

Source: ABS 2019f.

As the patient experience information in the SDAC is collected only from people with disability and their carers, it is not possible to make direct comparisons with people without disability. Information from the ABS Patient Experience Survey 2018–19 (ABS 2019e) provides a general population comparison. It suggests that people with disability are more likely to face barriers such as cost when accessing some types of health services. For example, 21% of people with disability aged 15–64, who delayed seeing or did not see a GP when needed in the last 12 months, did so because of cost (ABS 2019f), compared with 16% of all Australians aged 15–64 (ABS 2019e).

Of the participants in the NDIS, at 30 June 2019, 69% of those aged 15–24 and 66% of those aged 25 and over did not report any difficulties accessing health services (NDIA 2019a). For participants aged 25 and over who had experienced some difficulty, the most common reason for those was access issues (10%), followed by attitudes and/or expertise of health professionals (6%). Participants aged 15–24 from regional and remote locations were less likely than those in major cities to have a regular doctor and more likely to have difficulty accessing health services (NDIA 2019b).

The establishment of a National Disability Data Asset, announced on 6 September 2019 by the Australian Data and Digital Council, will provide further insights into the experiences of people with disability when accessing health services. The asset, being piloted in 2020, will link data from multiple service sectors including health, such as visits to hospitals, GPs and specialists.

For more information on the health of people with disability, see:

Visit Disability for more on this topic.


ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2019a. Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: summary of findings, 2018. ABS cat. no. 4430.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2019b. National Health Survey: users’ guide 2017–18. ABS cat. no. 4363.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2019c. Microdata: National Health Survey, 2017–18, main unit record file. ABS cat. no. 4324.0.55.001. Finding based on AIHW analysis of ABS microdata. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2019d. Microdata: National Health Survey, 2017–18. ABS cat. no. 4324.0.55.001. AIHW analysis of ABS TableBuilder. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2019e. Patient Experiences in Australia: summary of findings, 2018–19. ABS cat. no. 4839.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2019f. Microdata: Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia, 2018. ABS cat. no. 4430.0.30.002. AIHW analysis of ABS TableBuilder. Canberra: ABS.

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2019. People with disability in Australia. Cat. no. DIS 72. Canberra: AIHW.

DSS (Department of Social Services) 2015. Social Security Guide. Canberra: DSS.

NDIA (National Disability Insurance Agency) 2019a. COAG Disability Reform Council, quarterly report, 30 June 2019. Canberra: NDIA.

NDIA 2019b. NDIS participant outcomes 30 June 2018. Canberra: NDIA.

WHO (World Health Organization) 2001. International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health. Geneva: WHO.

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