Northcott CEO Q&A: Quality and Safety in the disability sector

By Luisa Bustos, 19 August 2019 , Comments

This week, Northcott’s CEO, Kerry Stubbs, will give a presentation and participate in a panel discussion at the Quality & Safety in the NDIS conference in Sydney. The conference will focus on how disability service providers can prepare for the upcoming Royal Commission and achieve compliance with the new standards introduced by the NDIS Quality & Safeguarding Commission.

We spoke to Kerry in the lead up to the conference to understand her approach to quality and safety at Northcott and her expectations on the Royal Commission.

What does quality and safety in the disability sector mean to you?

Safety is the basic promise that we need to make to our customers that says we will do our utmost to ensure their safety when we’re supporting them. That means being very much aware of what risks there might be, working with customers to manage them, and working with our staff to make sure that they understand any risks to customers. That’s number one. Quality is about the continual improvement of the services we offer, to meet the customers’ needs and desires. It’s continuing to question ourselves about how we’re doing things, why we’re doing them a certain way and how we can make them better.

How has the introduction of the NDIS changed what providers might think about quality and safety?

The NDIS has been very good, because there’s more competition. Providers are made to really think about what types of services they offer, what their quality and safety propositions to customers are and how they can make sure that they’re delivering according to their promise, because customers have the option to go elsewhere. Additionally, the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Commission has – or will have – more consistent and standardised frameworks for measuring quality and safety.

On the other hand, things are difficult because the NDIS is a much more fragmented system and you’re providing individual services to customers. In many ways, it’s harder because you’ve got a much more fluid and mobile workforce and it’s harder to manage consistency across your workforce.

What are some of the biggest challenges to quality service delivery for NDIS providers?

I think there are a number of challenges. Firstly, because we’ve moved into a totally new environment, people and organisations are struggling to adapt. It’s very easy to take your eye off the customer-centric focus that you need to have. One of the big challenges is how you juggle organisational, cultural change, new process, the National Disability Insurance Agency, new legal requirements, new financial requirements, while still managing to make sure that you’re concentrating on the quality of the service you’re giving to customers.

Another challenge is the financial constraint of the prices under the NDIS. The pricing structure doesn’t give you a lot of room for training, up-skilling, or any of those extras that we perhaps used to be able to do more easily under the old system.

Then there’s the challenge of increased demand, which is a great thing, but it also means there’s an increased need for staff and there aren’t enough staff to meet all the needs of the customers. We’re doing rapid on-boarding and up-skilling of people so making sure that you’ve got consistency in quality and safety can be a bit tough.

Quality is an area that you’ve championed here at Northcott. Why do you think this is more important than ever?

Like any new system or more market-based system, there are so many opportunities for poor practice. Providers can come in looking to make a quick buck but not deliver a good service, or people can be taken advantage of or not get the types of services they need. This means we really need to concentrate on quality. Also, for an organisation like Northcott, customers will only come to us if they think that the services we provide are the quality they want. They have other places they can go now, so we need to continue to provide better services.

Northcott is passionate about the safety of customers. What drives this commitment and Northcott’s approach to customer safety?

We are passionate about safety but within the context of choice and control. We want people to feel safe, and be safe, but we don’t want people with disability to have their choices taken away from them because there may be some risk. For us, it’s a balancing act between the need for customers to be able to make choices about their own lives, and to take calculated risks, and for those reasons, not to have disastrous consequences. We’re passionate because we think it’s everybody’s right to understand what choices they’re making and what the risks are for those choices, but to be able to make them.

Your panel will talk about the impact of the Royal Commission. What does the Royal Commission mean for an organisation like Northcott?

Hopefully it will be very good for the disability sector and for people with disability. Hopefully the recommendations that come from it will improve the system and improve the lives of people with disability.

For an organisation like Northcott, it means a lot of preparation and a lot of self-reflection. It is a great opportunity to improve our systems for gathering information, for reporting and for reassessing the way we do things. My main concern, however, is that the Royal Commission doesn’t go overboard with protection at the expense of people’s choice and control of their own lives. Overall though, I think it’s a good opportunity and Northcott will certainly be making submissions to the Royal Commission about the sorts of things that we think could be done to improve things.

What are you looking forward to learning or engaging with at the conference?

I’m on a panel so I’m looking forward to the questions people might ask. I’m also looking forward to hearing from Graeme Head, the CEO of the Quality and Safeguarding Commission, who’s speaking just before that panel. I’m really looking forward to catching up with other disability service providers and speaking with the other providers, to hear what they’ve got to say. It’s always useful to exchange information.

Is there anything else about the conference or quality or safety that you’d like to highlight to our staff or customers?

I want to say that generally I don’t speak at these sorts of conferences, but I think quality and safeguarding are so important, and there’s a lot of concern among providers at the moment so I thought it would be useful to share our experiences with our fellow providers.

Related content

Do you want to make a submission to the Disability Royal Commission? Read about how we can support you.

Northcott was awarded a grant from the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Commission to assist in developing a framework aimed at improving wellbeing and safety for NDIS participants with complex needs.


Kerry Stubbs is a former CEO of Northcott (till end of August 2020).


Let's see what you can do.

Stay in touch, subscribe to our newsletter