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How Support Providers Can Restore Trust: 3 NDIS Experts Weigh In

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When we published the 2023 results of the annual GoodHuman Customer Trends and Values Report, the results confirmed that the sector is grappling with a trust crisis.

Trust has been the top-ranked customer priority every year since we started the survey in 2021 and unfortunately, our latest results revealed that trust and satisfaction with NDIS providers doesn’t grow over time — it diminishes. 

Our survey data revealed that the mistrust and dissatisfaction plaguing the sector stem from issues with expertise and competence, trust and reliability, and communication and understanding. 

To discuss these results and dive further into how NDIS providers can rebuild trust in 2023, we presented our findings with a live panel of experts:

  • Jo-Anne Hewitt, Chief Executive Officer at Achieve Australia
  • Todd Winther, NDIS Subject Matter Specialist at DSC
  • Wendy Toupas, Professional Services Manager at Kirinari Community Services

With a wealth of professional experience in the disability sector we asked our panel to weigh in on the report’s findings and opened up questions to NDIS service providers. You can view and listen to a recording of the full report and conversation here, or check out the highlights and learnings below. 

Watch Now: 2023 NDIS Customer Trends and Values On-demand Webinar

What we learned from a panel of NDIS experts 

Our webinar and panel discussion centred on three core areas:

  1. Trust in NDIS providers
  2. Delivering continuity of care
  3. Referrals and reputation

Below are some key takeaways and highlights from these discussions. 

#1: Trust in NDIS Providers

Are enough NDIS providers delivering on their promises to customers? How can leaders build trust in their organisations and people? 

Key takeaways:

  • Be clear about what your organisation can deliver and don't over promise in areas without the staffing or expertise required.
  • The onus is on leaders to ensure every support worker, every clinician, every team member within the organisation is delivering on promises made to customers.
  • Have the right mechanisms in place for people to call out when promises aren’t being delivered on — customers, family members, or team members.
  • Invite people with disabilities to the table to be involved in — and actively contribute to — service design, policy decisions and business decisions, be it an employee, board member or consultant.

For Jo-Anne at Achieve Australia, she says the trust crisis indicates that as a sector, “we’re not delivering on what we’ve promised”. Building trust takes time, so when an organisation doesn’t deliver what they have said they can on their website or from a referral, the trust is going to be eroded. 

“There's a whole lot of buzzwords out there that have very deep meaning, but oftentimes service providers use them as catch-all phrases like ‘choice and control’, ‘person-centred’ and ‘active support’. What does that actually mean to a customer? What does the evidence show us? How do we actually do those things on a day-to-day basis and ensure that every support worker, every clinician within an organisation is delivering on that promise? That’s what builds trust”, explains Jo-Anne. 

Wendy from Kirinari Community Services agrees. She notes that when people come into the NDIS for the first time, they don’t always know what to expect or what they really want. Service providers can learn a lot from people who have been with them for 12-18 months and should take a proactive approach to finding out if they are getting the support they want, asking the right questions before they feel the need to walk away.

For leaders within disability support organisations, how do you embark on this approach? 

Jo-Anne suggests that sometimes in the desire to do the right thing by people, NDIS providers over promise. Organisations should start by being clear on what they can deliver well, rather than suggesting they can provide excellent service in areas where they don’t have the expertise or staffing. 

“It’s a two-way street”, says Jo-Anne. “Every person in the organisation needs to have an understanding of the promises made and what we stand by — and be doing their darndest to deliver that. There also needs to be mechanisms in place for people to call us out when we don’t. And of course, leaders need the willingness and wherewithal to fix it”, she explains. 

Todd from DSC, who is also an NDIS participant, notes that to achieve better trust and outcomes within the NDIS, providers need to take a co-design approach. That means inviting people with disabilities to the table to have input and bring lived experience to service design. “This is not a provider asking ‘how can we better accommodate your needs?’ — that is feedback”, he notes. “18 months ago there wasn’t a single person with a disability on the NDIA board. That is reflective of the discussion that the sector needs to have,” says Todd. He would also like to see more policy design and business decisions being made by people with a disability who don’t necessarily have the spotlight of a professional athlete or entertainer.

#2: Delivering consistency of care

How can NDIS providers ensure they are delivering consistency of care in light of workforce shortages and turnover?

Key takeaways:

  • It’s unavoidable that customers will need to interact with different people, but there should be at least one person overseeing their support that is consistent.
  • Information can’t exist in one person’s head, it needs to exist on a platform and work across multiple layers across the business. Technology can help arm staff with this information and also give customers more choice and ways to have input in the services received. 
  • Time, resources and care needs to be invested into induction and training of staff, as well as proper handover procedures.
  • Consistency comes down to an individual level so team members need to be empowered with information that can help them build on support provided — even where the NDIS doesn’t necessarily fund it. 
  • More needs to be done to shift the public perception of support work with professionalism prioritised over altruism.

Regarding the issue of consistency during turnover and shortages, Wendy says that it “comes down to training”. That across the industry more time and investment needs to be made in how staff are inducted and trained. This is because when discussing communication, consistency and reliability — it’s at that individual level of the person supporting a customer. Team members should be able to say “I understand as a new person, this is your experience based on the information I have available, what else do I need to know to provide service to you right now?”

To do this, there needs to be effective handover processes in place and the right technology, so organisations have the ability to say “Here is all the essential information about a customer. This is what you need to know quickly”. That team member can then be ready to have a conversation with a customer about whether this is working for them and how they want to continue,” explains Wendy. 

“This is where technology can help” notes Jo-Anne. “Where a [support worker] can be in charge of providing that information and not relying on a customer to be able to tell staff what they want.”

“Strong and consistent culture is what’s really critical,” continues Jo-Anne “That is knowing what the organisation expects of good service, the way the client can be front and centre of their service delivery. Staff should know what they need to deliver and there needs to be mechanisms in place to call out when this is falling short, regardless of a customer’s ability to provide feedback” she says.

Todd suggests that the conversation around support work needs to shift, as it’s currently marketed as an altruistic ideal. He believes there needs to be more focus on professionalism within the sector and support workers facilitating choice so people can live the life they want. Jo-Anne says that it’s up to providers to have mechanisms in place so that regardless of their ability to communicate, that customer wants are taken into consideration — and finding “creative and earnest ways of ensuring that”. 

#3: Referrals and reputation

People are increasingly using personal referrals and reputation to choose NDIS providers

Key takeaways:

  • Regional GPs have long-held trust with their patients, whereas in metro areas, there is a shift toward seeking personal referrals.
  • People are looking for referrals that account for the life they want to lead, not their medical conditions alone. 
  • There shouldn’t be any incentive mechanisms to profit from personal referrals, NDIS providers should focus on reputation and trust to benefit from word of mouth. 

One of the trends discussed within the report was that of referrals. The data reflects that in regional areas and small towns there’s still a reliance on GP and health professionals. In metro areas, this is shifting and people are more likely to rely on personal referrals. 

Wendy, who supports regional communities, says this comes back to trusting the people that know us best. In small towns, that is often still a local GP because people have had the same doctor for many years or even generations. In metro areas, it tends to be friends or people within their own network. This is because the focus shouldn’t be solely on the medical needs of a person, but what they need to live the life they want. 

A question from the audience posed “Given the growing importance of personal referrals, how do people feel about paying referral fees?”

Our panel agreed that referrals shouldn’t be financially incentivised. 

“That feels more like it’s coming back to a medical model…we need to shift away from that”, says Wendy. Todd agrees that people with disabilities “aren’t commodities” and should be viewed as people first. No mechanisms should be in place that allow profit for choosing one service over another. 

“It’s so important that people are telling others about your service because they’ve had a great experience, not because they’ve been given a monetary reward to do so,” agrees Jo-Anne. “The right support should be a priority. People should have a package of support that wraps around them, not a package that makes our organisation bigger,” she adds. 

Watch the webinar recording now

For the full conversation, including highlights from our report and audience commentary, you can catch the recording of our webinar anytime via this link

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