Feds to front disability virus inquiry – Seymour Telegraph

August 21, 2020

Senior government officials will give evidence at a royal commission examining the impact of coronavirus on people with a disability.

The commission has previously heard the Commonwealth was slow to create a disability specific health plan, which came after significant lobbying.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth is among witnesses expected to appear before the Sydney-based commission on Friday.

The commission has heard the federal government’s health plan at the beginning of the pandemic in February did not explicitly mention people with disability.

A specific Commonwealth plan for people with disability was approved on April 16.

Leading academic Anne Kavanagh told the commission on Thursday the current plan needs to be “urgently changed” in light of Victoria’s COVID-19 outbreak.

Professor Kavanagh wrote to the government in April about her concerns for people with disability who are receiving care in congregate or group settings.

“Unfortunately what I worried about in April has come to bear,” she said.

She said there was a lack of clarity about personal protective equipment (PPE) recommendations for workers, and the plan could have gone further to protect people in congregate settings.

Data released this week revealed there are 129 active cases among National Disability Insurance Scheme participants – 41 participants and 88 workers – with most in Victoria.

Andrew Richardson, CEO of service provider Aruma which supports 5400 people, said it was a struggle to get PPE early in the pandemic.

He said disability work was “well down the pecking order” behind other health and aged care services.

“Government agencies were appropriately seeking to ration it until they could build stocks,” he said.

“Unfortunately they did not view disability support work as an essential service.”

Ms Richardson said the casualised nature of the disability workforce caused him concern, with staff doing shifts outside his organisation.

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