Student project empowers NDIS participants to engage in rural health services

A collaborative project led by Monash University occupational therapy students will empower NDIS participants in South Gippsland to engage with their local health service.

The project, sponsored by Gippsland Southern Health Service (GSHS), was developed by Bachelor of Occupational Therapy students Amber Anderson and Lindy Wanasinghe over the last twelve months. The project is part of Monash University’s Department of Occupational Therapy Participatory Community Practice program, where students undertake a major project across two semesters in collaboration with a community-based organisation to address an identified issue, opportunity or need.

GSHS currently works with over 200 NDIS participants, with a large proportion of this population experiencing Intellectual Disability. Amber and Lindy’s research found that the service’s current intake process left clients feeling disempowered and isolated, resulting in reduced participation in allied health services, activity groups and community support programs.

“The NDIS shares minimal information with GSHS so staff often began appointments with little information or knowledge of the client, and clients were expected to repeat sensitive and personal information to multiple people.”

To combat this, the pair developed an “All About Me form in Easy English which clients can complete during the intake process with their NDIS coordinator. This form outlines a client’s details, medical and contact information, and lifestyle supports - which the client can choose to share with the hospital with informed consent.

“The development of the All About Me form allows clients to have a better experience by an efficient exchange of information, improving therapeutic relationships, increasing the quality of services, and delivering positive health outcomes. We hope this results in NDIS participants feeling empowered, knowing that the document is owned by them, with the choice to share it with different healthcare professionals,” the pair explained.Monash occupational therapy students with their supervisors from Gippsland Southern Health Service

“GSHS staff will benefit from an increased understanding of the client, enhancing the therapeutic relationship, leading to improved quality of care.”

Both students found completing the project and working in a regional setting to be a rewarding experience and developed a suite of new professional skills, which will be valued in their future careers and occupational therapy practice.

“We’ve developed transferable skills such as time management, communication and teamwork that can be applied to future practice. I look forward to the possibility of contributing to the profession with future quality assurance projects,” reflected Amber.

“The project highlight has been meeting our sponsors and staff members at GSHS. They have been incredibly supportive and helpful during the development and evaluation of our project. It was an honour to meet and work with a group of people with such strong relationships and passion for healthcare,” added Lindy.

“All staff members were open to hearing about the All About Me form and took time out of their busy day to provide us with feedback or show us around the hospital, which was very much appreciated.”

After spending more than 300 hours on the project, Amber and Lindy have recently handed over their completed project to GSHS’s allied health team and presented their work as part of a showcase of the Community Participatory Program projects at the Monash Peninsula campus in June.

Gippsland Southern Health Service CEO, Louise Sparkes, thanked Amber and Lindy for their contributions and noted the impact that students can make within a health service.

"We really value the presence of students in our organisation and they are are huge benefit -  for the organisation, our staff and our patients. The flip side is the impact a good learning experience can have on students and their development - and we are proud to offer opportunities, like this, to support future healthcare professionals as part of their training."