Bleak outlook for severely disabled residents
Fears are growing for the welfare of severely disabled people in NSW as the privatisation of disability services gathers pace.
The state government has begun the process of closing residential facilities that care for people with severe intellectual and/or physical disabilities.
The state’s biggest residential facility, the Stockton Centre in Newcastle, had about 380 clients and 400 nurses until recently.
About 50 Stockton clients have been transferred to 10 new group homes since November. The houses are staffed by disability support workers (DSW) including former assistants in nursing who transferred from Stockton.
“So far not one staff member has transferred out to a group house as an endorsed enrolled nurse or registered nurse,” said the Stockton branch president of the NSWNMA, Kieran Kelly.
“The government claims these houses do not operate under a medical model and therefore nurses are not needed. They only require someone with a first aid certificate and driver’s licence.
“Yet our clients are among the most severely disabled people in the state. Every one of them has an epilepsy management plan, a dysphasia plan (mealtime management plan), a mobility management plan, a hospital support plan and so on.
“They are the most disadvantaged people in the community and they have no voice and therefore no choice in the process.
“The government is telling them what they are going to do and that is the government’s definition of consultation, which is different from ours.
“We have known these clients forever. We have so much knowledge with these guys and we know how to communicate with them.
“We feel it is totally unsafe and reprehensible to send them out into the community like this.
“I fear for the clients’ health and wellbeing as a result.”
NSWNMA members support PSA strike
In February the union’s Stockton branch called on the new Berejiklian government to reassess the decision to exit all aspects of disability care in 2018.
The branch asked the new Minister for Disability Services, Ray Williams, to visit Stockton to “discuss the absolute importance of maintaining a public sector presence”.
The branch encouraged off-duty members to take part in a Sydney rally against privatisation organised by the Public Service Association, which called a strike of its members working in disability services on 14 February.
The branch said Stockton nurses would not do any work normally undertaken by PSA workers on the strike day.
Branch secretary Terry Rae said the closure of Stockton would represent a major loss of expertise in nursing and specialist areas such as neurology and dentistry.
“A nucleus of Stockton nursing staff and specialists should be retained to help service providers in group homes deal with problems they can’t manage on their own,” he said.
“It would act as a safety net similar to the role played by crisis teams in the psychiatric system, with the aim of protecting clients and taking pressure off the public hospitals.
“At Stockton, our clients can see a visiting specialist without having to go on a waiting list or attend a public waiting room. Some of our clients would experience a high degree of stress and anxiety if they had to sit in a crowded waiting room.”
Terry said the government had stated that some group homes would be designated as medical facilities and employ nurses “but they haven’t said how many, or where they will be. So far none of them are.”
Even more pressure on our EDs
He said disability support workers in group houses would inevitably have to make greater use of public hospital emergency departments and the ambulance service.
And clients would have to stay longer in hospital without Stockton’s specialist nurses to look after them on discharge.
“That will put a lot of extra pressure on the clients, on staff in group homes and the health system as a whole.”
Terry said families of Stockton residents were still fighting to keep some sort of service going and were getting “fantastic support” from local Labor members of parliament.
Stockton RN Michael Grant said it was absurd for the government to justify eliminating all Stockton Centre services on the grounds that the NDIS would provide clients with greater choice of services.
“I had a client today whose only way of indicating whether he wants a particular food or not is to turn his head away. That’s about the biggest choice he can make in life.
“They are forever having issues with feeding, drinking, aspirations and dehydration. Some of them need blood tests every day.
“To talk about giving these clients greater choice is just ludicrous.
“At Stockton we have doctors who keep an eye on the clients and direct them to specialists. However, in the community there’s already a struggle to find enough doctors and health specialists to cater for the small number of clients who have left Stockton to date.
“A lot of doctors have closed their books or are not set up to take big wheelchairs. And very few will do a house call.
“When Stockton closes we will still need a centre of last resort – perhaps three or four dozen beds somewhere within the health system.”