The NDIS regulator was notified of more than 69,000 reportable incidents over six months including 432 deaths connected to disability services, the disability royal commission heard.

In the period between July and December the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission also received 65,400 complaints of unauthorised restrictive practices, 1,700 complaints of abuse and neglect and 780 reports of unlawful sexual contact.

Quality and Safeguards Commmissioner Graeme Head, who was giving evidence to the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability in Sydney on Thursday, was asked by Senior Counsel assisting the Royal Commission Kate Eastman if the number of deaths reported caused him any alarm.

“Yes, the reason we have a reportable incidents scheme is to understand when serious things occur within the system,” he said.

“The death refers to any death in connection with the delivery of disability supports and services”.

Chemical restraint

Complaints about unlawful restraint included 38,400 instances of chemical restraint and 25,048 alleged cases of environmental restraint, the commission’s latest activity report shows.

Ms Eastman said the figures showed a “very steep increase” from 1600 reports of chemical restraint in 2018-19 to 65,000 in the six months to December 2019.

“Just on first blush that looks like an astonishing increase,” she said.

Graeme Head gives evidence at the royal commission on February 27, 2020.

Mr Head said the figures could reflect regular prescriptions of psychotropic medications over a period of time.

“So if someone is on regular medication twice a day, at the end of the week that is 14 incidents,” he said.

“It’s giving us information into the extent of the practices that are out there … and will assist the commission in doing some very positive work.”

Providers were encouraged to implement behaviour support programs designed to reduce restrictive practices, he said.

By December last year there were 3,000 behaviour support practitioners, up from 223 in July 2018, and more than 3,700 behaviour support programs had been lodged.

More than 2000 complaints

Overall, the report shows  the regulator received 2,022 complaints. Of those 51 per cent were about provider practice, 20 per cent were polices and procedures, 17 per cent were about workers and 12 per cent were about abuse and neglect.

1,102 incidents were reported to police.

Sixty-six per cent of complaints were made by a person with disability (38 per cent) or a family member or friend.

Mr Head said it was encouraging to see more people with disability feeling empowered to speak out.

“About two thirds of the complaints we receive come from either a person with a disability or from a family member or friend. There’s been quite a lot work done to encourage people with a disability to speak up about things that are happening,” he said.

“Anecdotally we think that we’re starting to see some signs that people with disability are increasing as a proportion of complainants.”

Figures collected by the NDIS commission show there are 326,746 participants in the scheme and 18,384 registered providers. This is expected to increase when the scheme is fully rolled out across Australia later this year.

The most popular provider categories were therapeutic supports, household tasks, travel and transport, community participation and assistive  personal care and safety products.

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