Sister wants NDIS answers for brothers ‘sad lonely’ death
The sad and lonely death of a man whose body lay on his kitchen floor undiscovered for up to three months after he was forgotten by the National Disability Insurance Scheme is being reviewed by the Office of the State Coroner.
The devastated sister of David Harris, 55, said there were distressing parallels between his death in July last year and that of Ann-Marie Smith, 54, who died last month after she spent the final year of her life confined to a cane chair.
"After David died, I tried to warn that this would happen again but no-one was listening to me. It is just absolutely horrendous," Dr Leanne Longfellow said yesterday.
She said he was let down by a system that was meant to protect him as he suffered from schizophrenia, diabetes and incontinence and needed regular injections.
After she found out that her brother had not been followed up because he missed an annual review in April last year, Dr Longfellow asked the minister for the NDIS why these vulnerable people were not given caseworkers who could check on them.
David's funding for weekly visits from a nurse, cleaning services and other support was withdrawn and his best friend Brian had died so there was no-one to check on him, Dr Longfellow said. His neighbours in the housing block all suffer severe mental disabilities.
The minister, Stuart Robert, told her that he had no plans for caseworkers.
"How could these deaths happen? It is the policies and procedures of the NDIS that allow these tragedies to occur," she said.
"I was told that after he failed to turn up for his annual review, they tried to ring him. He didn't like using the phone but no-one seemed to know that or knocked on his door.
She has renewed her calls for action after the death of cerebral palsy sufferer Ms Smith in Adelaide, which is being investigated as manslaughter. Ms Smith had spent 24 hours a day for a year even sleeping and defecating in the chair, despite a full time carer paid for by the NDIS.
Dr Longfellow, who teaches students with disabilities in Adelaide, recalls the night of July 15 when two South Australian police officers knocked on her door at 10pm to tell her that her older brother had been found dead in his Parramatta flat.
"I was appalled,"she said.
Growing up in western Sydney, she said David had been gifted as a pupil at Merrylands High School and got a job as a clerk when he left but developed mental problems in his 20s.
Dr Longfellow, who flew regularly from Adelaide to visit her brother, said he did not use the internet and because he disliked using the phone, initially she didn't worry. Her own daughter is profoundly disabled and was in hospital intensive care at the time.
The day her daughter was discharged from hospital, Dr Longfellow - whose doctorate is in education - called Parramatta police to check on him.
His body was too decomposed to carry out a full autopsy but he had no broken bones. Dr Longfellow has requested an inquest be held to prevent other deaths.
The case is next up to be reviewed internally by the NSW Coroner's Court on July 6.
"It is irresponsible to link this death to the NDIS without any basis to do so," an NDIS spokesman said.
Bill Shorten, shadow minister for the NDIS, has called for an independent inquiry into the deaths and accused the Liberal government of neglecting the scheme which was set up by Labor.
"Australians pay their taxes so that when they are vulnerable they are not left to die in squalor," Mr Shorten said.
"This kind of system failure resulting in death by neglect needs to be approached head on with honesty and genuine reform."
The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission investigated Mr Harris'death and found "there were no breaches of the Code of Conduct".
Minister Robert accused Mr Shorten of using the deaths of disabled people to score political points.
"Any death is a tragedy. It is disappointing Bill Shorten chooses to use the tragic deaths of people with disability to make cheap political points. I will leave him to answer for himself on that," the minister said.
Originally published as Sister wants NDIS answers for 'sad and lonely' death