Independent Assessments: have we dodged a bullet or is this a sign of what's to come?

If you're an NDIS client or follow the sector, you'll have heard about Independent Assessments: the buzz surrounding their arrival, the opposition (and confusion) from clients, families and advocacy groups, and the Government's recent decision not to implement them. But what were these Assessments trying to change and what can we expect in the near future? To find out, we asked our head of Support Coordination, Kristie Findlater.

Kristie Findlater, Support Coordination manager at Beyond Abilities
Kristie Findlater, Support Coordination manager

Kristie, what was your reaction upon hearing that Individual Assessments were not going to be introduced?

It was a huge relief. I felt like, with Independent Assessments, a lot of people would have their funds reduced when they really needed them, all because a total stranger would make life-changing decisions for them after meeting them for an assessment that lasts only a couple of hours.

How does the current system work?

Right now, when someone requires an assessment, they source an occupational therapist or Allied Health clinician, or their support coordinator will organise it for them. This might be their initial assessment for the NDIS, for an NDIS Plan review or if the person’s support needs have changed, for example a functional or cognitive assessment to provide additional evidence to justify allocating support funds. Often enough, the person will already have an established relationship with their Allied Health therapist/clinician, so the latter will know them quite well and understand what kind of additional support they might need and be able to make appropriate recommendations.

What do you think the NDIA was trying to achieve with Independent Assessments?

Ultimately, I think it would result in the reduction of funding available to clients. Independent Allied Health professionals conducting the assessments would be less familiar with the clients, their needs and their background information. This would put a lot of pressure on the families. I’ve already been hearing from families who are really stressed out, worried about these proposed changes and the letters they've been receiving from the NDIS heavily recommending they participate in the pilot project for Independent Assessments.

Other areas of criticism around Independent Assessments include the types of standardised assessment tools that were going to be used and concerns about marginalising people of different cultural backgrounds and in the LGBTIQA+ community. Were there any other concerns?

Yes, people have also been concerned about longer waiting times due to fewer clinicians providing the assessments. I’ve also heard talk of possible Key Performance Indicators, that independent assessors would be told to look for certain things and that reaching certain KPI thresholds would result in less funding for the clients. Some of these might not have been made known to the clients, resulting in less transparency in the overall process.

On the other hand, proponents of Independent Assessments have argued that the current system encourages a sympathy bias among therapists and clinicians, leading them to get as much funding as possible for their clients.

Look, I wouldn’t call it sympathy bias, it’s putting your clients first and supporting them in a way they truly need. I do get where that criticism is coming from, but I believe if the clinician knows that person well, they’re going to get what’s required, rather than a stranger coming in and funding them the way they think everyone in their position should be funded.

So, where to now? Do you see another big change to assessments in the future?

It’s likely the NDIA and the Government will look for other ways to cut costs in the future. Depending on what these might be, they could impose life-changing effects on many people. Another change might include a standard assessment form used by therapists – currently each provider uses their own format. We might also see tighter guidelines around the types of information required to conduct the assessment and less flexibility to add personal information to each client’s plan and supports. It makes sense for large organisations, like the NDIA, to seek efficiency by reducing face-to-face meetings and automating some of their processes.

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