Physiotherapy needed to fix healthcare crisis

man lying on table physio assessing knee in mask

Physiotherapy needed to fix healthcare crisis

man lying on table physio assessing knee in mask

Bringing physiotherapists into Urgent Care Clinics and funding First Contact Physiotherapy (FCP) will help alleviate the healthcare crisis and reduce pressure on GPs and emergency departments.

In light of the General Practice: Health of the Nation 2022 report being released by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) once again calls on governments to review their Funded First Contact Physiotherapy (FFCP) proposal and integrating physiotherapists into the Urgent Care Clinics.

As we have seen overseas, utilising the physiotherapy workforce in multidisciplinary teams is a successful model to address the current health crisis, reduce GP burnout and alleviate hospital waiting times.

The RACGP report indicates musculoskeletal conditions are a key cause of rising GP visitations.

“Patients in Australia generally have two options for musculoskeletal pain – they can either visit their GP or see a physio in a private setting. With the latter, patients must cover the full cost of the visits and treatments. We need Medicare to enable access to the most appropriate care in as few steps as possible,” APA National President Scott Willis said.

As outlined in the report, GPs themselves are concerned about appropriate and relevant patient access to healthcare services, as well as their workloads and the stress and pressures that come with that. 62 per cent of GPs felt that the health system and non-clinical issues were the most significant concern¹.

“These statistics are pretty conclusive and something needs to change or we will see a huge exodus from a critical healthcare profession. One of the solutions available that has been put to the government is Funded FCP in primary care. This is an Ahpra-regulated service enabling physiotherapists to assess, diagnose, treat and discharge a person without a medical referral where appropriate,” Mr Willis said.

FFCP already exists and is effective in the UK. In Australia it is presently limited to some emergency departments and to some extent, within the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations.

The UK implemented a FFCP trial in response to musculoskeletal conditions accounting for 20-30% of a GPs caseload. The volume of cases was causing a significant financial burden to the health system with expensive investigations, multiple referrals, delayed care and high rates of surgery².

In the trial, physiotherapists were embedded in GP clinics, funded by the government, and were the first contact practitioner for any musculoskeletal conditions.

“If FCP already exists, and there is a very obvious need for adjustment to the current patient journey, why are we still resisting better health outcomes, faster access to diagnosis and treatment, and reducing opioid reliance and burden on GPs?

“FFCP trials were initiated in the UK to find more innovative models of care and to reduce the demand on GPs. It’s resulted in tens of thousands of patients avoiding hospital and costly surgery for health problems such as arthritis, back pain and muscle, bone and joint conditions just by seeing a physiotherapist³,” Mr Willis said.


Scott Willis is available for comment.

The APA’s FCP submission can be found here.



¹ Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. 2022. General Practice: Health of the Nation 2022. 

² ³ Australian Physiotherapy Association. 2021. First Contact Practitioner. 


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