NDIS Secretary Bill Shorten announces plan to free up hospital beds as backlog in WA is revealed

National Disability Insurance Scheme Minister Bill Shorten has announced that around 177 hospital beds in WA are being occupied by patients who don’t need to be there.

This is because these patients are medically fit for discharge but are awaiting approval from the NDIS to be able to leave the hospital.

This not only affects patients, but also the healthcare system, which is struggling to find enough beds to care for patients who need them.

Mr Shorten said the cost of accommodating a “severely disabled” person in hospital when they could be elsewhere is at least $2,000 a night, meaning the total bill to the WA taxpayer is likely to be around $10 million dollars per month.

“I’m sure the healthcare system could do a lot with it [that money]but it’s also about the people,” he told ABC Radio Perth.

“It’s 1,500 people [across the country] who are profoundly disabled that we need to set up for their permanent housing.

“It’s as basic as too much bureaucracy, too slow decision-making, to more complex questions like how do we have proper housing to move people to?”

WA has the second worst backlog in the nation

Mr Shorten said the system was complicated as support ranged from simple home modifications to 24-hour care and in some cases involved dealing with “severe psychosocial conditions”.

Transferring people with disabilities from hospital is often complex, says Mr. Shorten.(Pixabay: Klimkin)

A WA government spokesman said there were 120 long-term NDIS-related patients in the state’s hospitals as of June, 67 of whom had a mental health diagnosis.

Mr Shorten’s estimate that the number had risen to 177 about a month ago means WA has the second worst backlog in the country when the number of patients is compared to the population.

He said it’s something he’s working on with the WA government, including Disability Secretary Don Punch.

“I think we can make progress. Some people have told me it’s impossible, I don’t accept that,” he said.

“The only thing that’s impossible is if we don’t try… 160 days average wait time across Australia is just insane.”

Plan to get patients out of the hospital earlier

To address these delays, Mr. Shorten has set new targets for the National Disability Insurance Agency, which administers the system.

A planner must meet with each person within four days after they are ready for discharge, and a plan must be completed within 15 to 30 days.

“There is enough money in the system to pay for the care of these people and it will be cheaper for the taxpayer overall to have a person in their own home or decent housing than a hospital,” he said.

“But one of the problems, I think, is that the states run the hospitals, the federal government runs the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and too often the levels of government don’t really talk to each other.

“We need to fix that, and I want to use the hospital discharge challenge to try to get people out of their silos and talk to each other.”

Elderly patients are already being transferred to geriatric care

This year’s state budget included a $252 million “reform package” to improve care in hospitals, with $74.1 million earmarked for moving long-term patients out of hospitals.

Most of that money, $59.5 million, was earmarked for 120 aged care beds to provide alternative housing for these patients and to address what Health Secretary Amber-Jade Sanderson called a “pathetic failure” by Commonwealth authorities.

WA Health Secretary Amber-Jade Sanderson speaks at a news conference.
Amber-Jade Sanderson says moving patients out of the hospital also improves their well-being.
(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

“This not only frees up beds, but above all offers a better quality of life for those patients who don’t want to be in the hospital and don’t have to,” she said at the time.

A WA government spokesman said 163 NDIS-related long-term patients were discharged from hospital between January and June.

Each week, the spokesman said, about 60 elderly people were released from city hospitals into transitional or elderly care.

They said all 120 beds announced in May to help elderly people out of hospital were operational.

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