Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Australians with disability were identified as a vulnerable population due to their increased risk of morbidity and mortality as a result of underlying health conditions, potential exposures to multiple carers, and ‘social determinants of health’ impacts such as discrimination and social exclusion. Despite this, people with disability were largely ignored in the Federal Government’s initial COVID-19 policy response. Consequently, the disability sector rapidly mobilised to lobby the Federal Government to create a disability specific policy response, which resulted in the Commonwealth Department of Health forming an Advisory Group to help inform the development of a response.
This report explores the barriers and enablers that led to the development of the Management and Operational Plan for People with Disability, the federal government’s national action plan for protecting people with disability during the pandemic. The report provides a descriptive account of findings from interviews with key stakeholders involved in the development of the Action Plan. Eighteen stakeholders who were part of the Advisory Committee and/or National Roundtable that were established by the Federal Government to oversee the development of the Management and Operational Plan were interviewed.
Despite an initial lack of action to protect people with disability, there were a number of enablers that helped both draw policy makers attention to the issue and facilitated a relatively rapid policy response once policy makers were on board. The process of developing the COVID-19 disability policy response was seen by stakeholders as a mostly positive experience. Many members of the groups expressed a desire for the structures (Advisory Committee and Roundtable) established during 2020 to continue, once the immediate threat of the pandemic is over. However, it was also identified that to continue in an effective manner there would need to be a tight focus for the group(s) to avoid confusion over the purpose and direction moving forward.
While there were positive aspects to the development of the Action Plan, there were also a number of barriers identified that hindered its execution. Many of these barriers are long standing issues in the disability-health policy interface rather than new issues and these were further exacerbated in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, there was positive engagement with the sector once the Advisory Committee and Roundtable were established, however fully implementing responses was more challenging due to issues such as lack of collection of data on which to base decisions and ongoing difficulties in the disability health interface.