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Are Assistive Technology Suppliers an Essential Service?

ATSNZ has consulted with the Ministry of Health (via the Deputy Director General of Disability Adri Isbister), Accessable (via the CEO Graham Walling and the procurement manager Richard Parker) and Enable (via the acting CEO Greg Brogden and the procurement manager Gavin Eades) to establish whether Assistive Technology suppliers are deemed providers of essential services under the COVID-19 approach to contain the infectious disease.

Our request to Adri Isbister was a straightforward question that was supported by the statement that many of the AT products support some of our most vulnerable citizens, keeping people out of hospital or helping them discharge from hospital more rapidly. We saw this opinion reflected in the principles shared with us by Accessable & Enable in their most recent supplier communications.

Principles underpinning the definition of essential service to the health and disability system include: 

  • Keep people at home living safely 
  • Keep people out of hospital where we can 
  • Where possible get people home from hospital quickly
  • Respond to crisis / urgent / acute physical and mental health needs
  • To avoid harm to people’s mental wellbeing.

In the letter from Adri Isbister, circulated to ATSNZ members, the MOH’s directive is that:

  • Equipment and Modification Services (EMS) that are essential include the provision and repair of essential disability equipment and communication equipment according to the principles above.
  • Non-essential home modifications will be deferred. Any urgent and essential access modifications such as modular ramping and rails to allow for access to a person’s home could be considered where a long term need for this has been identified (the person has a long term disability and will need this support for at least 6 months, and is likely to continue living in their home for 2-3 years). 
  • Vehicles and vehicle modifications are not considered essential.

Enable circulated a letter to suppliers indicating Enable’s decision around whether supplier products fall under the essential equipment or not, following the same principles as above. Their advice was the following: 

An essential disability service should be any service providing direct support that maintains a person’s necessities of life. The focus is on keeping people living safely in their home. If in doubt, ask yourself: if this service was not provided would the person be at risk of serious harm or hospitalisation. The workforce that deliver those essential services are considered essential workforce, including any suppliers contracted to support this outcome.

What is deemed as an essential piece of equipment will be a decision made by clinicians or health professionals such as an Occupational Therapist. If suppliers are not currently listed as providing essential equipment to Enable, they are however asked to be on standby should a request for any of their products occur, to help Enable keep the process running smoothly and efficiently.

Accessable has taken a different approach to securing supply chains by analysing what is currently in stock, both in their own premises and amongst suppliers, and what they estimate might be required in the next few months. They intend to purchase forward the product they estimate that will be required and, in many cases, have the supplier hold on to it until such time it is requested through the clinicians.

In conclusion, AT suppliers are required to remain open to supply essential equipment. Whether equipment is deemed essential, will be assessed by health professionals (including Professional advisers).

The question to the MoH that remains unanswered relates to direct purchase by consumers. This falls under non-essential unless evidence can be provided that the purchase is based on the same principles stated by the MoH.