A new national advisory group on COVID-19 and people with disability has held its first meeting to draft a coronavirus response plan focusing on the unique needs of people with disability.

Greg Hunt

The management and operational plan for people with disability is set to be delivered to the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) on Thursday.

The group was announced by Health Minister Greg Hunt and endorsed by the AHPPC last week.

The advisory group is chaired by a senior health department official and includes experts from the disability sector, academia, clinical practice, nursing, and state and territory government representatives.

“The plan will form part of the Australian health sector emergency response plan for the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and will ensure the health care needs of people with disability, their families and carers can be met during the pandemic, including access to coronavirus screening, prevention and health care,” Mr Hunt said last week.

“The plan will give priority to individuals whose disability and current health status places them at the greatest risk from coronavirus. This includes people with intellectual disability and people who have complex support needs — behavioural, social, or physical — to undertake the activities of daily living.”

No time to waste

Australian Greens disability spokesman Senator Jordon Steele-John has welcomed the initiative but says it should have come earlier.

“We don’t have any more time to waste. Disabled people need a dedicated and natinonally coordinated stategy now to ensure that they have the information and support they need to get through the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

“So far the government has failed to actively include us from the response to COVID-19 and this has caused significant anxiety and concern amongst our community. “

Disability groups set out demands

It came as disability groups released a statement calling for action to address the impact of coronavirus on disabled people and their support networks.

In a joint letter to the National Cabinet more than 70  national, state and territory disability groups said they are “deeply concerned” by the lack of specific and targeted measures to protect people with disability.

“Australians with disability represent some of the most excluded of all Australians in relation to the impacts of coronavirus. Our needs remain largely and are rarely if ever, mentioned in any press conference, media release or government conversation about coronavirus,” they say.

“At the same time, many people with disability are particularly at risk from COVID-19, because of barriers that exist to our inclusion, and our need for ongoing support.”

The letter lists ten demands including expanding criteria for COVID-19 testing to cover people with disability, making the $550 coronavirus supplement available to disability support pension recipients and defining “essential services” for people with disability.

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