Increasing physiotherapy in comprehensive primary care

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The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) believes that all Australians should have access to high-quality, locally delivered physiotherapy. Therefore, our priority for 2022 will be improving access to physiotherapy for the seven million people living in rural, regional and remote Australia, many of whom have no physiotherapy services available to them.

Physiotherapists play an important role in Australia’s healthcare system. As key members of multidisciplinary teams they assess, diagnose, treat and prevent a range of disabilities and conditions, both acute and chronic. Physiotherapists work across the lifespan and support their patients in the treatment and management of such things as cardiorespiratory disease, chronic or persistent pain, women’s health, workplace injuries, musculoskeletal conditions and falls prevention.

The reason physiotherapy is difficult to access in rural Australia is multifactorial. Rural physiotherapists predominantly operate under a private business model, often set within regions of socioeconomic disadvantage where affordability is a significant factor. Where this occurs, or in communities where there is an absence of private physiotherapy services, public hospitals become the default service provider. Public hospital physiotherapy services in rural areas are often required to ration services and prioritise caseloads as demand exceeds capacity.

Workforce shortages also pose significant challenges to the delivery of health care for rural physiotherapists. Difficultly in attracting and retaining physiotherapists to work in rural areas contributes further to the disparities in health care.  

This year the APA will work with stakeholders to address these concerns. We will continue to advocate for increased rebated physiotherapy items to ensure comprehensive primary care for rural Australians that incorporates preventive health solutions. With a stronger investment in publicly funded physiotherapy, private practitioners will be able to provide affordable care within their communities, decreasing the pressure on public hospitals. In addition to this, allowing access to physiotherapy for preventive care can help address the increased disease burden seen in rural areas.

Addressing workforce shortages in regional, rural and remote Australia is key to ensuring the viability of physiotherapy services in these areas. A key component of our advocacy is the removal of the Workforce Incentive Program (WIP) as it currently threatens the viability and sustainability of local, independent practices where they do exist.

The APA will also be highlighting the need for targeted strategies to financially incentivise physiotherapists into training and for practices to address unmet service need. This will involve encouraging governments to invest in rural workforce solutions that focus on recruitment and retention by developing the specific skills required through a rural generalist training pathway.

The APA will be continuing to act on its commitment to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and making physiotherapy a culturally safe profession. This includes supporting physiotherapists to enhance their cultural competency through the provision of appropriate education and learning opportunities, as well as supporting more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to pursue a career in physiotherapy. The APA has incorporated these and other actions – intended to contribute to the organisation’s vision of a reconciled Australia – in our next reconciliation action plan.

The APA also hopes to develop a better understanding of service need through workforce data. There is a current lack of data and systems to measure and report on community need for physiotherapy. We hope to support and inform the development of key data to address unmet service need.

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