Published 5 October 2020
Commonwealth Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), The Hon Stuart Robert MP, recently announced that a new independent assessment process would be rolling out from 1 January 2021. The new process aims to improve access to the NDIS for people with disability by providing consistent and free access to an independent assessment process for any potential participant to determine if they are eligible to receive funding.
The initial application of the independent assessment process will be to assess the eligibility of people over the age of 7. Over time, the NDIS will expand the use of the independent assessment process to include testing the eligibility of children under the age of 7. It will also seek to apply the outcomes of the independent assessment process to inform plan budgets both for new plans and for plan reviews at points of key life transitions.
From the perspective of the allied health sector, the introduction of the independent assessment process represents an important step forward for the NDIS. Equitable access to the NDIS is crucial. The introduction of independent assessments mean that the ability to pay privately for the assessments needed to demonstrate eligibility will no longer act as a potential barrier for those seeking access to the NDIS. Moreover, the independent assessment process recognises the essential expertise of allied health professionals in identifying the functional needs of people with disability.
While AHPA recognises the importance of independent assessments, it also recognises that some aspects of the process are still unclear. We are working with the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) and with the sector to understand and support the development and safe implementation of the independent assessment process.
What are independent assessments?
The NDIS website states: “Independent assessments create a complete picture of how you manage tasks and activities in your everyday life. How you do things like school or work, or take part in your community.”
The independent assessment process involves the use, by an allied health professional acting as an independent assessor, of an independent assessment toolkit to assess the functional capacity of potential participants and what level of support they may need. This assessment is not the same as the functional capacity assessment that an occupational therapist or other allied health professional might undertake as part of their clinical work with a person. Instead, it is a new assessment designed by the NDIA to ensure that they are able to get the information they need to make consistent and accurate decisions about a potential participant.
There is still significant confusion about how independent assessments might be different to other assessments made by allied health professionals as part of their clinical work. It is also not yet clear for many providers how the new process will impact their work. These questions are a key focus for the work AHPA is doing with the NDIA.
Guidance provided by the NDIA to AHPA and its members states:
“In relation to the scope of how functional information is used in the scheme there is no change to the decision-making approach. Today we collect functional information for Agency decisions at Access and in Planning. This new approach is proposing to use a consistent set of tools with a defined workforce to remove the costs to participants and provide a consistent way of measuring the functional impact of a person’s disability/disabilities on their life.
Independent assessments are not designed to be used in clinical practice to support planning a participant’s therapies/ specific supports delivered by a participant’s chosen allied health professional.”
The NDIA has also sought to reduce potential confusion by re-naming the process and framework to remove the word ‘functional’. As a result, the Independent Functional Capacity Framework is now called the Independent Assessment Framework. Please note that the Framework and independent assessment process continue to reference functional capacity as this is a core element of the NDIS legislation.
How is AHPA working with the NDIA as part of the design and implementation of independent assessments?
The independent assessment process has identified six allied health professions that can perform the role of independent assessors. Those six professions are:
- occupational therapists
- speech pathologists
- clinical and registered psychologists
- rehabilitation counsellors
- social workers.
AHPA and the six professional associations representing those professions have recently undertaken work with the NDIA to identify the requirements for the independent assessor workforce in relation to credentialing, training and quality assurance. That work is now complete and involved providing a range of recommendations to the NDIA.
The work undertaken as part of that project did not include a focus on the assessment toolkit as the NDIA identified that this was out of scope. However, with the public release of the assessment toolkit report, AHPA and its members are now working to gather feedback from the sector to understand any potential gaps or issues. We are also seeking to understand the outcomes of the independent assessment pilots. Some of our key areas of focus are:
- whether the independent assessment toolkit is appropriate for all participants and types of disability
- when other allied health assessments may be required to supplement the independent assessment process, including for issues such as swallowing safety and access to assistive technology
- understanding how independent assessments inform plan budgets
- how the independent assessment process may affect the allied health workforce
- how the rollout of the independent assessment process is being overseen and how both the process, and the work of the independent assessor organisations are evaluated.
From our perspective, it will be particularly important to ensure that robust evaluation measures are in place once the independent assessment process is rolled out, with participant and allied health representation, to ensure that the assessment process is working as intended and that the organisations delivering assessments are providing consistent, high-quality services and appropriate support to their workforce.
We encourage you to refer to the independent assessment section of the NDIS website, including the Q and A section. We also encourage you to work with your professional association to identify any questions or issues you might have. Over the coming months, AHPA will continue to engage with the NDIA and the sector as we work to support the implementation of the independent assessment process.