6 Sep 2008

Separate commissioner could benefit disabled

8:47 am on 6 September 2008

The Deputy Health and Disability Commissioner says a new government report could solve the problems limiting its ability to advocate for people with disabilities.

Parliament's Social Services Committee has released the results of its inquiry into the quality of services and care available in the sector.

The inquiry followed allegations of deaths, poor staffing and mismanagement at the service provider Focus 2000 - the business arm of the Cerebral Palsy Society.

The report makes 22 recommendations, including the introduction of a separate commissioner.

The chairperson of the Social Services Committee, Russell Fairbrother, says the sector is well resourced, but sometimes has a greater focus on the service providers rather than consumers.

He says an independent commissioner could improve advocacy for the disabled.

Other recommendations include establishing local area needs co-ordinators, to directly help disabled people get the services they need.

CCS Disability Action, which provides services for people with disabilities, says the report focuses on adults but more resources are needed to support children with disabilities.

Spokesperson Paul Gibson says children often end up in institutions that cater for older people, which fail to meet their needs and push their families further into crisis.

The Multiple Sclerosis Society says the existing Health and Disability Commissioner has been of little help to members trying to get the care they need, and splitting the role will not change that.

Deputy Health and Disability Commissioner Tania Thomas admits her office can accept complaints only about the quality of services, not access to them. However, she says the report suggests changing that.

The National Party says the inquiry has revealed systemic problems and a lack of leadership. Disability issues spokesman Paul Hutchison says disabled people have been at times afraid to speak out for fear of repercussions.

The Ministers for Health and Disabilities Issues say they will be calling an urgent meeting with key players in the sector.