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New research funded by Mind Australia has found emergency departments and NDIS providers need to upskill and work collaboratively to better support people experiencing mental health challenges when they present to emergency departments.

Heather McIntyre is the inaugural recipient of a Mind funded PhD scholarship delivered in partnership with the University of South Australia. Her research found NDIS participants often receive inadequate care within emergency departments, and they are discharged from emergency departments without proper treatment due to a major disconnect with the NDIS.

The qualitative study explored how a presentation to the emergency department can affect NDIS plans and continuity of care. It included the perspectives of people with a psychosocial disability and an NDIS plan who had experience of presenting to an emergency department due to mental distress.

The study interviewed 24 participants and found that clinicians in emergency settings made incorrect assumptions about the NDIS and the type of support it provides. The study revealed that:

  • all participants reported that the process of applying and negotiating with the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) caused them unnecessary distress
  • all participants said clinicians who supported them during hospital presentations were unclear about what the NDIS provides and made incorrect assumptions about the services people could access through the NDIS, often overestimating the level of support they were receiving
  • most participants reported inconsistent and unclear communication practices with the NDIS, emergency departments and other health services.

Heather says it is clear that the disconnect between the NDIS and emergency departments is failing people with psychosocial disabilities.

“Time and time again we hear about people experiencing distress when they contact the NDIS – they fight to be heard, fight for support, and are often dismissed, so the last thing they need is to go through this again when they require emergency care,” Heather said.

“Many emergency department staff aren’t aware of the limitations of the NDIS and they wrongly assume that the NDIS provides a higher level of care than it does. This leaves many people with a psychosocial disability being discharged at emergency without appropriate treatment and returned to the situation that caused them to present in the first place.”

Mind Research and Evaluation Manager Dr Laura Hayes says the research identified an urgent need to strengthen service integration and communication pathways between emergency departments and the NDIS.

“Emergency departments and NDIS providers must acquire further skills and service capacities to provide supportive, overlapping care and decrease distress for people with psychosocial disabilities,” Dr Hayes said. 

“The voices of people with a psychosocial disability and an NDIS plan are clear that emergency departments must learn how to build trust, how to really listen and provide safe, low-sensory environments.” 

Heather McIntyre’s research: ‘Everything would have gone a lot better if someone had listened to me’: A nationwide study of emergency department contact by people with a psychosocial disability and a NDIS plan has been published in the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing.

If this article raises concerns for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islanders can also call 13 YARN (13 92 76) a 24/7 national crisis support telephone service staffed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.