National Auslan Interpreter Booking Service and the NDIS

The Government confirmed to Deafness Forum of Australia that it will shift the National Auslan Interpreter Booking & Payment Service, better known as NABS into the National Disability Insurance Scheme by 30 June 2020.

The NABS is a small but vital program in the context of government services.

The current transition arrangements will create a new gap in the nation’s health defence in this COVID-19 pandemic.

The NABS program provides a service that books and pays for an accredited interpreter to assist people whose first language is Australian Sign Language in their medical consultations that attract a Medicare rebate, or specified health consultations, provided in a private medical practice by a general practitioner, specialist or health professional.

As things stand, on 1 July 2020 the approximately 720 NABS users who do not have an active NDIS plan will not be able to access the NABS for their health appointments, particularly appointments with their GPs (people who are NDIS participants can theoretically pay for NABS from their plans).

To further complicate the situation, the Department is currently tendering for a new organisation to take over the NABS service delivery contract. Deafness Forum understands that a new contract is to commence in July. In ordinary circumstances, this might be an appropriate thing to do and we have no views on the relative merits of providers. However, in the context of this health crisis, there is too great a risk to the vulnerable citizens served by the NABS serves and therefore, the greater community. From a continuity of service perspective, there will be a considerable challenge for a new NABS contractor to recruit and maintain a workforce to deliver acceptable standards at a time of peak demand created by this pandemic.

It would be a relatively small public investment in the greater scheme of things for the Government to make the following arrangements:

  • By whatever administrative means, all consumers who are current and future users of NABS would be able to access the NABS without impediment or additional rules and processes from 1 July 2020 until at least this time next year
  • The current NABS delivery contract be extended for this same period if possible, perhaps incorporating additional KPIs and measures relating to a pandemic context
    • We recommend that a future NABS contract-holder may not also provide services to the consumer group the NABS is designed to serve to avoid conflict of interest

Our case will be stronger from many voices giving the same message. We would like the various groups whose focus is people whose first language is Auslan to recognise the threat and to make their own representations to the Government.