Statement from APA National President Scott Willis
The future of health care in Australia needs to be an election priority.
The Australian Physiotherapy Association’s (APA) Election Statement, Physiotherapy: A Path to Better Care, calls on all political parties to commit to real primary care reform through the expansion of publicly funded physiotherapy using new advanced pathways that will strengthen care for all Australians.
Our primary care system is unduly complex and a new approach to deliver better health care and improve patient pathways is needed. With a Medicare system under severe strain, reorienting the health system by investing in primary care, including publicly funded physiotherapy, is non-negotiable.
The APA welcomes the Labor’s commitment to boost workforce incentives for rural and regional general practitioners to support the engagement of nurses, allied health and other health professionals to provide multidisciplinary team-based care. We know that multidisciplinary and integrated team care works – there is absolutely no dispute that investment in this model of care improves patient outcomes, saves costs and is a more efficient and effective way to run the health system.
We also welcome the Coalition’s promise to deliver 3,000 more doctors and over 3,000 extra nurses and allied health professionals over the next decade.
However, despite these promises, neither party has committed to addressing the main issues of access and affordability that come from rising out-of-pocket costs. It is baffling why the major parties won’t invest in new models of care and in better and faster access to diagnosis, treatment and care of musculoskeletal pain and chronic conditions. Especially when common musculoskeletal conditions such as back pain and its associated conditions are treatable through physiotherapy, but continue to affect over 4 million Australians and are the second leading cause of burden of disease in Australia¹.
We need to look at ways to deliver healthcare differently.
A first step will be to overhaul Medicare-funded referral pathways and lift barriers to allow physiotherapists to directly refer patients to medical specialists, and to request imaging for patients. Next, will be to commit to a profound reform of Medicare and primary health care funding to enhance access to essential care such as physiotherapy - a proven effective and cost-effective treatment for a broad range of conditions².
Strengthening Australia’s health system through new models of care is vital to improve patient outcomes and equity of access.
We need to see more, not less, investment in primary care, community care, and prevention with substantial policy commitments from the major parties, to address the structural inefficiencies and the barriers too many patients experience in their health journey.
The direct benefits of this investment may be seen through an improvement in quality of life, reduced pain or increased mobility in addition to the prevention of unnecessary future health expenditure, the reduction of out-of-pocket expenses or allowing skilled employees to return to work more quickly³.
The APA called on the major parties to support the proposition that better outcomes for patients can be delivered by investing in sustained, integrated, team-based care encompassing high-value physiotherapy.
Neither has responded.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us what reform at pace can look like. We have seen how achievable it is to remove the barriers to make true health system transformations when needed, as illustrated with the adoption of Medicare-funded telehealth.
Improving our health system and delivering better health services should be a priority. Why isn’t it?
Scott Willis is available for comment.
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