While the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) fully supports government measures to control COVID-19, including warranted lockdown restrictions, the APA is calling for a nationally consistent approach to accessing physiotherapy care that balances health needs with restriction of community movement.
APA National President Scott Willis said that after more than 18 months of upheaval to the lives of all Australians, the need to remove unnecessary confusion and reduce the detrimental impact restrictions are having on the health of our communities, has never been greater.
“The ability of individuals to access physiotherapy is currently different across the states and territories, resulting in thousands of physiotherapists and their patients, needing essential and on-going routine treatment, being left confused and frustrated by the inconsistent lockdown measures.”
“As things stand, neither the patient nor their health provider has clarity about how to ensure they are getting the care they need. What we are asking is that physiotherapists be respected as the highly trained professionals they are, and for restrictions on access to physiotherapy care to be eased.”
Mr Willis said the Federal Government recognised physiotherapy as an essential service when Australia first went into lockdown in 2020, but more recent lockdown events in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia and related restrictions have effectively nullified the essential care status of physiotherapists, with potentially serious and unintended outcomes.
“There are significant health implications of limiting access to necessary physiotherapy care during lockdowns. In many instances, unless prompt health care is provided by a physiotherapist, patients are likely to experience worsening pain and/or exacerbated health conditions that may result in unnecessary and avoidable presentation at Emergency Departments or, increased dependence on pain medications.”
“During the course of extended lockdowns in Victoria through 2020 and 2021, and now NSW in 2021, the number of people forced to delay routine care that will ultimately result in increased care needs has risen. There is an urgent need for a national approach to address these inconsistencies and detrimental health impacts.”
Mr Willis said that on a daily basis physiotherapists are seeing examples where their patient’s health and wellbeing is being negatively impacted by limiting access to necessary physiotherapy care during lockdowns.
“One such story is of a vulnerable person being exposed to the emergency environment and creating an unnecessary load on the hospital system. A physiotherapist’s client with an intellectual disability and scoliosis whose treatment was delayed a week because it was classified as non-critical. They developed increasing back pain and vomiting and was admitted to emergency to investigate the vomiting. Their physiotherapist eventually saw them during the week and all the vomiting, and most of the pain, was resolved after two sessions.”
“Another example is of a business manager that had their staff report an injury in early September but they weren’t able to book an initial appointment with a physiotherapist until more than three weeks post injury. This delay has directly impacted on our service delivery, her recovery and impacted their workers compensation.”
Mr Willis said that physiotherapists are highly trained specialists and clinicians who should be allowed to apply their professional judgement when determining how to best care for their patients – be that face-to-face care or telehealth.
“Physiotherapy’s role in primary health care is well established and widely recognised. Physiotherapists should be able to operate under the same degree of trust as other professionals, including GPs and dentists, who are able to exercise judgement in treating face-to-face for conditions that may not necessarily be urgent but, have the potential to become so.”
“With New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory all under some form of restrictions and lockdowns, it is time for national agreement to ensure vital health services remain operating and patients can access safe and effective care,” he said.
Scott Willis is available for comment.
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