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A united approach
Marcus Dripps

As we head into another year of ongoing government reviews and health system challenges, it’s important to keep sight of the long-term policy questions. With an upcoming election, health is likely to be front and centre in terms of community discussion.’

Since their transition from ‘Medicare Locals’, the Primary Healthcare Networks (PHNs) are probably the most significant change and we need to seriously consider the ramifications for our profession.

PHNs have the potential to work across sectors and establish services to better meet the needs of communities. Government policy makers want to maximise this potential and the Federal Government is already funding PHNs to become ‘purchasers’ of mental health and addiction services for their communities.

But how will PHNs decide which providers to select to deliver services?

Will they be selecting services based on cost? Will they consider higher cost services with evidence of longer term benefit? How will conflicts of interest be handled by PHNs? What happens to providers who ‘miss out’ on funding? Will funding levels pay for a whole treatment service, or will there be a health insurance type model that attracts out-of-pocket payments? Will there be a national approach to purchasing services, or will there be different approaches in each of the 31 PHNs?

As a profession, and individually, we’ll need to consider how we work with our local PHN, and how we manage the competition that the PHN might create.

We need to have input into PHN decisions. To do this, we need to get involved in PHNs at all levels of their function to make sure physiotherapy services are central to health decisions. Much of this engagement is difficult to coordinate on a national basis, and will occur locally.

So, how can individuals/practices get involved?

Your involvement could be through clinical committees responsible for assessing the health needs of the population. Or, you could become involved in a purchasing or primary care planning committee. Whatever way you do it, make sure you understand how your PHN will make its decisions and how you can influence the process.

This is only the start of the journey with PHNs and the ‘commissioning’ of health services. The APA will be working through the policy questions. But it is imperative that we, as physiotherapists, begin to look at our own environment and connections to PHNs, and how commissioning can fit in with our practice.

Anyone who is already involved with a PHN should email the APA at This will help to build up our data on who is involved, where and when, as well as establish what gaps there are around Australia.

Let’s work together to positively influence health outcomes in our communities, share our successes and challenges, and achieve the aim that all Australians should have access to high quality physiotherapy to optimise their health and wellbeing.

APA National President

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