Inconsistent access to RATs across Australia

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The Government of Victoria has extended its free Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) scheme for people with disabilities to cover the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, just as the temporary measures introduced by the Federal Government are to be scaled back.

People with disabilities living in Victoria will be able to access up to 20 free RATs at screening clinics or Disability Liaisons until the end of September.

However, the federal government program that distributes RATs to residents and assisted independent living (SIL) workers is set to end on July 31, and recipients will no longer be able to claim $12.50 per RAT from a plan participant. National Disability Insurance (NDIS). plan from August 31.

The removal of these temporary measures by the federal government will mean that support providers and people with disabilities will have to bear the cost of buying the tests off the shelf.

In SIL environments, where multiple people with disabilities live and receive weekly support from a range of different workers, RATs are used to prevent the spread of the virus to residents and to prevent workers from spreading it across multiple sites.

These residents may also be more medically vulnerable to COVID-19 and are unlikely to be able to completely self-isolate to protect against the virus.

Victorian Minister for Disability, Aging and Carers Colin Brooks said expanding the state’s free RAT scheme will ensure all people with disabilities – not just SIL residents – have access to tests to ensure their safety and that of their loved ones during the winter.

“Early detection of COVID-19 helps protect people from serious illness by ensuring earlier diagnosis and treatment – and this is especially true for the most vulnerable people in our community who suffer its effects the hardest.” , said Minister Brooks.

“We are continuing to provide free rapid antigen tests to those who need them most, helping disabled Victorians stay safe over the coming winter months.”

In Victoria, free RATs are available to anyone with an NDIS plan, as well as those in receipt of the Disability Support Pension or Transport Accident Board benefit.

Although these are available for collection by persons with disabilities or caregivers at state-run screening clinics, if it is not possible to travel to a clinic, Disability Liaison Officers can also find another way to distribute the tests.

The New South Wales government is pursuing a similar program through which people with disabilities and those who are immunocompromised can access free RATs.

These tests are distributed through NDIS vendors and organizations working with the Department of Communities and Justice, as well as community centers.

The NSW Government’s recommendation is that people collect the number of RATs they need, which is at least two per week.

In addition to state-based disability programs, people classified as close contacts can still receive free RATs – although this may not be available in all states and territories.

Services Australia also has a scheme allowing concession card holders to receive a maximum of five RATs per month from pharmacies, but this is limited to ten RATs over three months per person.

NDIS Minister Bill Shorten was contacted about whether the NDIS temporary measures for access to RATs could be extended, but did not respond before publication.

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