More proactive consultation of the allied health sector on health reviews and reforms, new models of care and policy development, and workforce development would maximise the effects of such reforms, and provide the community with greater access to multidisciplinary care. Key areas for AHPA advocacy are described below.
In Australia, primary care initiatives typically focus on general practice and medical models. However, allied health professionals are an important part of the primary health care team and have essential roles in the prevention, early intervention and management of chronic disease.
AHPA strongly supports primary care reform and improved funding to better integrate allied health services in primary care settings and increase consumer access to best-practice care. AHPA currently holds positions on the Australian Government’s Primary Health Reform Steering Group and the Expert Steering Committee for Preventive Health Strategy.
Many elderly Australians, both in the community and in residential aged care, rely on allied health practitioners for specialised support for a range of physical and mental health conditions. Allied health services help support older people to maintain or improve their health and/or level of independence.
Lack of funded access to allied health services is a major factor in reducing health outcomes for older people and increasing overall costs to the health system.
AHPA has been active on several fronts on the issue of aged care funding reform, including making a number of submissions and presenting to the Royal Commission on Aged Care Quality and Safety in a bid to improve access to allied health aged care services.
Ancillary benefits policies offered by private health insurers are an important means for Australians to access allied health services not properly covered by Medicare rebates. These benefits allow access allied health services that may prevent or delay the onset of complications of chronic conditions, reducing the need for more expensive interventions, including hospitalisation.
AHPA is increasingly working with Private Healthcare Australia and individual insurers in relation to issues such as telehealth and hospital substitution. AHPA is keen to support new and appropriate private health insurance-funded models of care that increase consumer access and improve outcomes without eroding allied health roles.
AHPA and the allied health sector welcomed the introduction of Medicare rebates for telehealth delivery of allied health services as part of the government’s response to COVID-19. The sector has long advocated for increased access to telehealth. Guidelines and standards have since been developed to help providers and consumers use the newly available technology.
The implementation of telehealth in allied health is currently being evaluated, with work focusing on both consumer and provider experiences. AHPA strongly supports the continuation of telehealth for allied health services under Medicare and other government-funded programs.
The Australian Government has invested heavily in digital health technologies, such as My Health Record and secure messaging, that enable health professionals to quickly and securely access relevant patient information. However, allied health professionals are unable to use My Health Record, due to a lack of compatible software for allied health practices.
AHPA has been working with the Australian Digital Health Agency to help support allied health engagement with My Health Record and other digital health platforms.
Allied health providers are an important source of support for many Australians with disability. However, many people still have difficulty accessing allied health disability services and significant work is needed to address workforce issues that impact access to services.
AHPA has been working closely with the Department of Social Services, the National Disability Insurance Agency and the NDIS Commission, to support the rollout of the NDIS and access to other disability services.
Meeting the needs of Australia’s growing population, particularly with increased care requirements for chronic and complex health conditions, will require significant recruitment and retention strategies. The allied health sector in particular needs flexible clinical education models to develop its workforce.
A national allied health workforce strategy with a coordinated, multi-sector approach is required. This should include development of a career pipeline for allied health practitioners in rural and remote settings, where training health professionals locally is an important factor in keeping them there.
The lack of allied health data in Australia is a significant concern. There is currently no consistent allied health data collection, severely limiting the effectiveness of workforce planning and investment by governments and other stakeholders to meet the service needs of Australians.
AHPA strongly supports work to improve allied health data collection, including comprehensive workforce data, and data on usage and outcomes of services. A more complete picture of the allied health workforce and its contribution to care systems will help support policy development and planning.