Victorian report highlights provider failures over avoidable choking deaths

Posted 1 month ago by Nicole Pope

The Victorian Commissioner says there is a need for action at both state and national levels [Source: Shutterstock]
The Victorian Commissioner says there is a need for action at both state and national levels [Source: Shutterstock]

A report conducted by Victoria’s Disability Services Commissioner has revealed shocking failures by disability service providers in preventing deaths by choking in the State.

The inaugural report, A review of disability service provision to people who have died 2017-18 analysed 48 of the 88 deaths within the scope of the investigation and showed three out of the 48 were caused by choking on food, with a further seven deaths attributed to aspiration pneumonia - a life-threatening but often avoidable infection caused by inhaling food, fluid, saliva or vomit into the lungs.

Disability Services Commissioner, Arthur Rogers says the evidence demonstrates some providers are failing to meet their obligations under the Disability Act 2006 and says there is a need for action at both state and national levels.

“This important review tells us some Victorian disability service providers are not meeting their obligations under the Act to uphold the rights, safety and wellbeing of people with disability.”

Other major concerns highlighted within the report include disability service providers failing to implement modified diets, a lack of communication assessments and plans to support people with specific communication needs and substandard record keeping.

The report also revealed half of the people whose deaths may be related to heart conditions did not see a cardiologist or dietitian within the previous year and 83 percent of deaths involved people with disability who lived in shared supported accommodation.

In response to the report, Commissioner Rogers issued Notices to Take Action to a number of disability providers to encourage them to rectify their current practices, issued a Notice of Advice to all Victorian disability service providers and notified the Victorian Police and State Coroner about concerns in individual cases.

“We believe our review should inform the implementation of the NDIS, particularly with a focus on appropriate assessment and planning for people who require communication, dietary or mealtime assistance.”

“We would also expect service providers to respond to this report by increasing their focus on identifying and implementing appropriate supports for the people they support.”

National President of Speech Pathology Australia, Gaenor Dixon also expressed concerns about the report.

“While we welcome the Commissioner’s report, it sadly confirms what speech pathologists have been warning for some time now - that unless appropriate plans and supports are in place, deaths associated with choking pose a serious threat to the wellbeing of many Australians with a disability,” she says.

“The sad reality is that the most common factors in choking deaths is a lack of clear personalised information about safe eating and drinking for people with disability and inadequate supervision.”

Ms Dixon says people with disability need access to speech pathology services who can work with both individuals and service providers to ensure safe eating and drinking and communication access.

“Speech Pathology Australia has been advocating strongly that the NDIA should continue to allow mealtime assessments and supports by a speech pathologist to be included in a participant’s plan.”

“It’s why we welcome the Federal Government’s interim decision last week that the NDIS will fund the ongoing assessment and monitoring of mealtime plans for NDIS participants with swallowing difficulties who are not in a hospital or acute care setting.”

“Any failure by Government to fund such mealtime support would endanger the life of Australians with a swallowing disability, as well as limiting their safe and enjoyable participation in the everyday activity of eating and drinking.”

To further highlight the avoidable deaths, the report showed the median age of death was 52 years old for males and 54 years for females - 29 years less than the median age of death for the general Australian population.

You can read the full report here.

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