Cabinet Ministers have approved a COVID-19 response plan that takes into account the unique health needs of people with disability.
The development and execution of a Management and Operational Plan for People with Disability is part of the Government’s response to the outbreak of the coronavirus known as COVID-19.
The response plan will help to ensure that the health care needs of people with disability, their families and carers can be met during the pandemic, including access to coronavirus screening, prevention and health care.
Measures introduced to help support people with a disability through COVID-19 in the new response plan include:
Allowing disability carers and people with disability access to the national stockpile of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to help slow the spread of the virus and protect both carers and people with a disability.
Improving information and communications about COVID-19 to be inclusive for all people with disability, and people providing informal and formal support.
Establishing guidelines to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 within shared residential and activity settings.
Collecting and sharing data and evidence about the spread of COVID-19 and its health impacts on people with disability.
Maintaining and preparing clinical care and public health management so that people with disability continue to have access to essential health care for non-COVID-19 related conditions.
The plan will give priority to people whose disability and current health status places them at the greatest risk from COVID-19. This includes people with intellectual disability and people who have complex support needs.
The Disability Royal Commission has previously raised concerns about the response to COVID-19, emergency planning, and the issues being faced by people with a disability.
Chair of the Commission Ronald Sackville AO QC says all Australian Governments have a responsibility to uphold the rights of people with disability during emergencies.
“We already know that people with disability can be severely affected by emergencies and may be at a higher risk of experiencing violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation at these times.
“Our recent Statement of Concern about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people with disability has been strongly endorsed by more than 70 Disability People’s and Disability Representative Organisations across Australia in an Open Letter to the National Cabinet.”
Disability advocates say that the plan is a step in the right direction to protecting people with a disability during the outbreak of COVID-19.
Jeff Smith, Chief Executive Officer of People With Disability Australia (PWDA) and member of the Government Advisory Group, says, “We are pleased to see safeguards being put in place for people with disability. In this regard, the response plan is an important “first step” in what was needed.
“It is of critical importance to take a national response to ensure people with disability across the country have equal access to healthcare and avoid a ‘patchwork quilt of approaches’.”
A number of measures have already been put in place by the Federal Government to support people with disabilities during COVID-19 as a result of the plan.
Measures already in place include:
Training to help people caring for people with disability protect themselves and the people they are caring for from infection.
Improved communication for people with disability, their families, carers and support workers about the coronavirus outbreak.
Mobilising expertise to help health care workers provide better care for people with disability.
The response plan was drafted by an Advisory Group commissioned on 2 April 2020 by Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy.
The advisory group is chaired by a senior official from the Department of Health and includes experts from the disability sector, academia, clinical practice, nursing, Australian Government officials, as well as State and Territory Government representatives.
The group held its first meeting on Friday, 3 April and delivered a draft plan to the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) on Thursday, 9 April.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health says that the plan is aligned to the Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Coronavirus which was activated by the Prime Minister on 27 February 2020.
You can visit our dedicated COVID-19 information page for the latest updates on how COVID-19 is impacting the disability sector.
What are you doing to support yourself through COVID-19? Tell us in the comments below or email us at [email protected].