Advocacy in a time of uncertainty

 

APA General Manager, Policy and Government Relations Simon Tatz looks back over a year of intense engagement despite the turmoil.

COVID-19 has continued to drain health resources in 2021, forcing much of the sector to jostle for the scraps of decision-makers’ attention and budgets.

Fortunately, there have been a number of opportunities to advocate for the benefits of physiotherapy amid the clamour.

It is only right that the focus of governments, departments, administrators and clinicians at all levels and across all settings has been firmly set on managing the pandemic and the vaccination rollout.

It has been a race to save lives directly and indirectly affected by the virus, the strain on the health system and the impacts of lockdown measures.

Political lives have also been at stake and the pressure on departments of health to deliver COVID-19 public health orders, PPE, contact tracing, communications and vaccination programs has been acute.

Those living in lockdown areas, including physiotherapists, are all too familiar with how difficult it has been to get things done as the world around us shuts down.

Like others who have taken advantage of this surreal time to take stock, the APA has used this opportunity to build on our strategy to educate stakeholders, increase access for consumers and expand workforce sustainability.

We have strengthened the foundation of evidence and relationships to put us in a strong position when the world returns to some form of normality.

Importantly, we have continued to represent the interests of consumers and the profession at two key forums shaping the future of the health landscape—the 10-Year Primary Health Care Plan’s Primary Health Reform Steering Group and the 10-year National Preventive Health Strategy, which is nearing completion.

The landmark Value of Physiotherapy in Australia report—a comprehensive, independent analysis of the cost and quality-of-life benefits of physiotherapy—has been launched.

The first-of-its-kind report analyses the impact and provides the cost benefit of physiotherapy in 11 common areas, including osteoarthritis of the hip and knee, back pain and falls prevention programs.

The findings of the report, undertaken by the Nous Group, demonstrate the economic benefits that physiotherapy provides to patients and the Australian healthcare system and will underpin many of our ongoing advocacy efforts.

Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt requested a full presentation of the report, which APA National President Scott Willis and CEO Anja Nikolic delivered at an online meeting with the minister.

Copies of the report continue to be requested and almost 500 have been sent to key stakeholders and decision-makers.

The minister has asked for more information and we continue working with him and his office.

Scott and Anja engaged with politicians, department heads and other stakeholders across all relevant portfolios in a packed schedule of productive meetings this year.

These have included Australian Medical Association President Dr Omar Khorshid, Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services Richard Colbeck, Shadow Assistant Minister for Health and Ageing Ged Kearney, Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel Shayne Neumann, Senator for Tasmania Jacqui Lambie, Chief Allied Health Officer Anne-marie Boxall, Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Minister for Government Services Senator Linda Reynolds and Shadow Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Shadow Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten.

Scott Willis presented to the Select Committee on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention and met with Shadow Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Shadow Assistant Minister for Carers Emma McBride, Professor Ian Hickie from the Brain and Mind Centre and the Black Dog Institute.

Our state branch managers and staff across the country are attending many meetings with compensable schemes.

While there continues to be a wild disparity in the fees paid among schemes, we will continue to invest time and resources to strive for consistency in fees and maintain relationships.

They have also worked hard to ensure that physiotherapy’s status as an essential service is recognised and that practices can continue to see their clients.

A concerted stakeholder engagement campaign has been underway to promote physiotherapy in the aged care sector and we are now working directly with aged care facility providers to increase awareness about the critical role of physiotherapy in the care of older people.

This includes articles in providers’ member communications and webinars about the benefits of physiotherapy’s wide scope of practice.

We are currently developing our third Reconciliation Action Plan, which builds on our previous two Reconciliation Action Plans and will have at its core the practical steps the profession can take to move towards Reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Work is underway on developing an overarching rural and remote action plan to guide our advocacy and national policy input.

This includes the Rural Generalist priority project and broader advocacy, such as investment in a rural training pipeline for physiotherapy.

We continue our work with the Australian Digital Health Agency and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare to develop meaningful datasets encompassing the profession.

In a year of such great uncertainty, there has been substantial behind-the-scenes engagement to keep physiotherapy on the stage.

We look forward to ramping up again in 2022.

 

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