Primary healthcare key to close the gap

11 February 2015

The Australian Physiotherapy Association, a coalition partner of the Close the Gap Committee, is urging the Federal Government to improve physiotherapy access as a key component of primary healthcare to prevent, detect and manage chronic health conditions in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

It comes as the Committee today releases the 2015 Close the Gap Progress and Priorities report, finding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more than three times likely to have diabetes(i), and other high levels of treatable and preventable conditions, compared to other Australians.

“It’s well established the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples remains the worst of any group within Australia(ii),” Australian Physiotherapy Association Chief Executive Cris Massis said. “While we’ve seen some improvements, including a slight decrease in the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and other Australians – now at 10 years difference(i) – we still have a long way to go in addressing the health of this group.

“We need strong, sustainable commitment from government to ensure chronic conditions are prevented, detected and managed in Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander communities – and physiotherapy is a proven effective measure to addressing this. Physiotherapists are experts in managing chronic conditions, as well as others like musculoskeletal and respiratory diseases (ii) .

“But there are major gaps in physiotherapy service access that needs urgent attention from government. The APA believes there should be more investment in physiotherapy in Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations as well as other programs to improve workforce availability and culturally appropriate physiotherapy services.

“There are not enough Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander physiotherapists in Australia . We need greater investment in opportunities for Indigenous Australians to be part of the workforce and provide culturally appropriate physiotherapy services. It will lead to better health, social, economic outcomes to benefit Australia,” Mr Massis said.

The APA has developed a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) to advocate for better access and get more physiotherapists engaged with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, including through awareness raising, educational and professional development opportunities.

The APA also supports and promotes partnerships with public and private organisations to enhance physiotherapy involvement in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Examples includes a partnership between Alice Springs Hospital and Adelaide Hospital’s Women’s and Children’s Orthopaedic Physiotherapy Department to provide specialist care to Indigenous children from across a one million square kilometre area. It also includes the Success or Significance Foundation, founded by Back In Motion, where physiotherapists volunteer in remote and disadvantaged areas.

The APA is also advocating for extending the scope of physiotherapists to prescribe limited medications and refer patients direct to medical specialists within hospitals and remote areas with a Medicare rebate – providing a ‘one-stop shop’ for managing conditions and seeing improved health outcomes among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples often have reduced access to health services, so providing a one-stop shop of primary health care through these types of reforms is vital to help close the gap,” Mr Massis said.

APA’s Cris Massis is attending the Close the Gap parliamentary event today, on behalf of the APA’s 16,700 members, ahead of the Prime Minister’s report to Parliament on progress made to reduce Indigenous disadvantage

For further information, or to speak with an expert physiotherapist, please contact:

Katie Croft - Australian Physiotherapy Association
P: (+61) 3 9092 0891 M (+61) 0413 780 545

(i) Close the Gap Campaign Steering Committee, Close the Gap: Progress and priorities report 2015, February 2015,
(ii) Australian Physiotherapy Association, Indigenous Health Position Statement, 2010,
(iii) Australian Physiotherapy Association, Reconciliation Action Plan for 2012-2014, 2012,

About the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA)
The Australian Physiotherapy Association is the peak body representing the interests of 16,700 Australian physiotherapists and their patients.