Ministry of Health Offers Little Assurance To Disabled Community

The Ministry of Health may have fronted, but the detail on what’s next for Disability Support Services was light and uncommitted during the latest round of conversation.

During a live stream hosted last Thursday, the Ministry of Health shared its learnings and attempted to get close to something of a vision for the future after it held public events around New Zealand that engaged with the disability community.

Adri Isbister, Deputy Director-General for Disability Support Services, led the conversation and spoke of the impact that hearing the stories, positive and negative, from disabled people and families had on her team.

“Your stories have truly impacted us, my responsibility is to lead a fair and equitable system”, Isbister said.

Throughout the conversation, a wide range of issues facing disabled people was discussed, including System Transformation rolling out nationally, funding for rare diseases, caregiver support, ACC, family funded care, and the question of whether NASC’s are refusing residential services options for some in New Zealand.

Isbister eyed early intervention, person-directed supports, reviewing service provider contracts and continuation of across government collaboration as just some of the key areas that the Ministry want to ensure moving forward.

It all sounded like a pitch for the vision of Enabling Good Lives (EGL) in many respects. Goodwill, hope for a better future, but the same old lack of promise or substance to much of the conversation.

Isbister herself said that there were “a few questions with no answers” frequently throughout the live stream and wouldn’t commit to any solid timeframes of innovation in the next five years.

“I can’t promise that we can fix everything in the next five years, we have pockets of innovation in New Zealand but this is not available to everyone so our challenge is to provide advice on how to transform the system”, Isbister said.

Such a response shouldn’t inspire much confidence in the short term, but at least the Ministry of Health’s leading disability guru has heard the concerns of the community, right? Let’s just hope that advice doesn’t fall on deaf ears.

Don’t forget that the live stream was meant to be a refresher from what the Ministry had gathered in terms of information and feedback from the disability community during their nation-wide PR attempt.

37,000 New Zealanders currently access Disability Support Services, and in terms of the nationwide rollout for services that are more flexible, the Ministry is attempting to figure out ways to scale up after the monitoring of trials in the Mid Central, Christchurch, and Waikato to deliver something within the next five years.

“We are still monitoring outcomes from these approaches and we will keep you updated”, Isbister said.

The highly topical points of difference between supports for those under ACC versus disabled people under MoH also delivered very little assurance in terms of a future outcome, Isbister remained firm in her stance that the two systems are separate despite many disabled people in New Zealand being eligible for both and often receiving poor supports as a result.

Marketed as a “what we are going to do next”, what Isbister did in reality was deliver hot air with little substance and energy. The closest to passionate the Deputy Director-General came to was her strong defiance that NASC’s in some areas, including in the Mid Central prototype, were actively refusing some families access to Residential Care.

“The new system is not refusing residential care, there is no strategy for this”, Isbister said.

Calls for greater transparency from the Ministry of Health are nothing new and have steadily increased in recent years. The Ministry should be commended for making the effort, not just to engage with disabled people and families, but to discover more about what needs to be done to achieve the equity across the system they claim to be committed to.

But with very little detail or evidence coming from the most recent round of conversation, the disability community won’t be any more assured this week than it was the last.

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