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NDIS participants died infected with virus

Eight Australians in the National Disability Support Scheme have died while infected with coronavirus.

A Senate inquiry on Thursday heard from officials responsible for the scheme, who admitted an overarching coronavirus response plan for the NDIS wasn’t developed until April.

Of the eight people who died, six were in Victoria and two from NSW.

NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission registrar Samantha Taylor pointed to the distinction of someone dying directly from coronavirus or with it.

“That is an important distinction, not all of them passed away of COVID-19,” she said.

One worker, an employee of Victoria’s health department, also died with coronavirus.

More than 350 participants and employees have had coronavirus.

As of Thursday there are 12 participants and eight workers with COVID-19.

Case numbers in the NDIS were first published on August 19, and officials say death statistics aren’t included for privacy concerns.

Department of Social Service’s Catherine Rule admitted there wasn’t an overall virus plan for the sector until mid-April.

But there were plans at the local level, she said.

The Senate inquiry also heard there wasn’t a specific plan for people in Victoria until August, after the second outbreak of cases had started.

The disability watchdog also defended its compliance scheme after admitting one fine has been issued out of thousands of complaints.

NDIS quality and safeguards commissioner Graeme Head said there had been about 5700 complaints, but that didn’t necessarily mean breaches had occurred.

“People can complain about a wide range of matters,” he told the inquiry.

The one fine was for the care provider of Adelaide woman Ann Marie Smith, who died in April from septic shock, multiple organ failure, severe pressure sores and malnourishment.

“The infringement notice was for a failure to report by the provider who was providing services to Ms Smith,” Mr Head said.

The watchdog – which has been cleared of wrongdoing – revoked the registration of provider Integrity Care and has banned it from operating.

Police allege Ms Smith died of serious criminal neglect and her death was preventable.

About 700 compliance actions are under way relating to 3000 disability service providers, the inquiry was told.

There have been 23 banning notices, and Mr Head says more fines could be on the way.

But fines against providers weren’t the watchdog’s only option, he added.

“There are a range of compliance and enforcement actions we undertake.”

There are about 17,000 registered providers but 9000 are active.

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