Ann Marie Smith report urges NDIS Commission to act earlier to identify vulnerable Australians



Adelaide woman Ann Marie Smith died earlier this year in horrific conditions. She suffered septic shock, multi-organ failure and malnutrition after spending, according to South Australian police - up to a year being left in a cane chair. As a woman with cerebral palsy, she was a participant of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Now a new report out today has recommended the NDIS Commission act earlier to identify Australians with disabilities who are vulnerable to harm or neglect. Duration: 4min 2sec Broadcast: Fri 4 Sep 2020, 5:20pm

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Adelaide woman Ann Marie Smith died earlier this year in horrific conditions.

She suffered septic shock, multi-organ failure and malnutrition after spending, according to South Australian police - up to a year being left in a cane chair.

As a woman with cerebral palsy, she was a participant of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Now a new report out today has recommended the NDIS Commission act earlier to identify Australians with disabilities who are vulnerable to harm or neglect.

Eleni Psaltis reports.

ELENI PSALTIS: Police have charged Ann Marie Smith's sole carer with manslaughter and her service provider, Integrity Care, is now banned from operating but the investigations haven't stopped there.

ALAN ROBERTSON: Ann Marie Smith died on the 6th of April 2020 after a substantial period of neglect have been living in squalid and appalling circumstances.

ELENI PSALTIS: These were the opening words of former Federal Court judge, Alan Robertson SC, as he released his review into what the National Disability Insurance Scheme Quality and Safeguards Commission should have done for Ms Smith and he has made 10 recommendations including that the commission act earlier to identify Australians with disabilities who are vulnerable to harm and neglect and also:

ALAN ROBERTSON: No vulnerable NDIS participant should have a sole carer providing services in the participant's own home. The relevant statutory instruments and guidelines should be amended to provide expressly for this.

My third recommendation is that for each vulnerable NDIS participant, there should be a specific person with overall responsibility for that participant's safety and well-being. That individual should be clearly identified by name and ideally introduced in person to the vulnerable NDIS participant.

ELENI PSALTIS: Mr Robertson did not find any significant failings in the steps taken by the commission and in relation to the carer, Rosemary Maione, he says the commission had no information to justify banning her from working in the disability sector before it was notified of Ms Smith's death on the 20th of April but he did recommend the commission should be given more powers including the ability to have face-to-face visits with vulnerable NDIS participants.

Romola Hollywood is the Director of Policy and Advocacy with People with Disability Australia.

ROMOLA HOLLYWOOD: What it highlights most of all is that the NDIS, as it stands at the moment, there really is insufficient safeguards and oversight mechanisms to protect people in the NDIS from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

ELENI PSALTIS: Do you think the recommendations go far enough?

ROMOLA HOLLYWOOD: We think they are a good start. We have been calling for many years for a fully independent oversight body that would look at not just people who are participants in the NDIS but for all people with disability.

The Quality and Safeguards Commission is reliant on responding to complaints that are made to it. So what that means is that it is a reactive approach. The commission is reliant on information being fed back and the challenge is that there is no capacity for a pro-active approach such as undertaking spot checks to see how people are going.

ELENI PSALTIS: And Ms Hollywood says no time should be wasted acting on these recommendations even though the Disability Royal Commission is still underway.

ROMOLA HOLLYWOOD: The Disability Royal Commission also identified that as we go, as we identify issues and concerns and they have been fully investigated, we should be acting on those reports because we can't afford to put more people's lives at risk.

ELENI PSALTIS: Any changes to the legal framework of the commission have to be amended in Parliament but the NDIS Commission has told the ABC it will now review the recommendations that directly relate to the commission's powers.

RACHEL MEALEY: Eleni Psaltis reporting.

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