The extension of Stage 4 restrictions in Melbourne which only allow allied health treatment for patients meeting extremely narrow criteria is causing distress and potential long term harm to patients. The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) is calling on the Victorian government to ease these restrictions and enable physios to treat patients who need their care.
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos last week outlined the government’s concerns over reduced hospital presentations by scared Victorians, noting that “deferred care can lead to worse health outcomes”, yet current DHHS guidelines for allied health practice allow only very urgent conditions to be treated.
APA Victorian Branch President Tom Hindaugh says this defies the government’s call for Victorians to seek treatment.
“Our members have very real concerns for the health of many of their patients who do not technically fit the criteria for emergency treatment, yet who are calling in desperation to be seen. This puts many physios in a really difficult position. They have a duty of care to look after their patients, many of whom they have treated over a long period of time and have built up trusted relationships with. They are worried that the restrictions are now doing more harm than good.”
APA members have relayed several stories of patients who have had to be turned away as they do not fit the criteria for essential care laid out by DHHS. This includes an older person in acute emotional distress as their mobility has been severely impeded as a result of their regular physio session being cancelled. His mobility is getting worse and the risk of a serious fall and long term impairment is significant.
Another patient, an older gentleman who was undertaking a structured strength and conditioning program which required the use of physiotherapy equipment, now finds that his knee pain has returned, forcing him to take pain medication. He may now have to consider surgery, which the physio-led program was helping him avoid.
Mr Hindhaugh says physios are highly skilled and experienced primary care practitioners and must be allowed to use their clinical judgement to determine patient need, just as doctors do.
“We’ve worked through the pandemic for six months now and our members are acutely aware of COVID Safe work and hygiene practices. They use telehealth when it’s appropriate to do so. Unfortunately, many patients need face-to-face care and any further delay can really jeopardise their outcomes. The safety of our patients and staff is always paramount.”
“It’s counter-intuitive that the Victorian government is urging the community to seek medical care on one hand, but denying it to allied health patients on the other due to an overly stringent set of criteria. We absolutely must be able to look after our patients, keep them mobile, pain free and functioning independently. Both patients and the wider health system will be better off.”
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