Two physiotherapists are presenting an overview of their physiotherapy treatment services at the Australian Physiotherapy Association’s (APA) TRANSFORM scientific conference in Adelaide this week. Their keynote address, Fighting Social Injustice: stories from the frontline of physiotherapy practice, urges their peers to check implicit biases towards vulnerable groups in our community and minimise the barriers to access that marginalised Australians experience.  

Dr Katia Ferrar, lecturer at the School of Health Sciences at UniSA and Matthew Beard, lead physiotherapist at Royal Adelaide Hospital’s Spinal Assessment Clinic, each provide high quality, evidence based treatment and education to particular vulnerable groups.  

Dr Ferrar runs a UniSA student-delivered allied health clinic in conjunction with the Salvation Army and UniSA Law School for adults experiencing homelessness and crisis. The clientele range from the working poor to hostel accommodation dwellers and people sleeping rough. Clients’ backgrounds vary but some are migrants and refugees, and many clients have mental health, drug and alcohol problems. Law students from the university work alongside the allied health students in a health justice framework, which recognises that health and legal issues are often intertwined, and outcomes are significantly better for clients if both are managed well.

Dr Ferrar says the health issues she treats are similar to those seen in a typical physiotherapy clinic, but the layers of environmental, social and psychological factors often make the treatment more complex. “Our work is about addressing the underlying physiotherapy need, but also minimising the impact of social factors like isolation, access and cost. We operate in a very inclusive environment where everyone is treated with respect and dignity, which is fundamentally what we all deserve but sadly many of these people do not experience that.”

Matthew runs a surgical triage service in conjunction with SA Prison Health Service across South Australia. Clinical assessments are provided to prisoners with spinal disorders via a secure videoconferencing platform. This allows a timely consult locally, negating the need for challenging and expensive prison transfers. He says physiotherapists have a professional and ethical obligation to provide care to all members of our society. “Technology, particularly telehealth, can be used to project services to a range of client groups who are otherwise disadvantaged by city-centric services.

“At the end of the day it is in all our interests to support the health and wellbeing of all members of our community.” 


Dr Katia Ferrar and Matthew Beard are available for further comment.  


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