Reduce Victorian emergency wait times through advanced physiotherapy

4 February 2015

The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) is urging the Andrews Labor Government to improve physiotherapy access and scope of practice in Victorian hospitals to help ease the half a million Victorians who wait more than four hours in emergency departments, according to a Productivity Commission report.(1)

The Productivity Commission also found more than 5400 Victorians waited more than 365 days for their elective surgery in 2013-14 – the worst performance of all mainland states – and that potentially avoidable GP-type presentations to emergency departments increased significantly between 2009-10 and 2013-14. 

APA CEO Cris Massis called on the government to provide sustainable support to extend programs providing Victorian physiotherapists to care for patients in the Emergency Department.

“These physiotherapists can help move patients through the system faster, but need to be supported with rights to refer patients on to medical specialists with a Medicare rebate, as well as to prescribe medications within their scope of practice. This will help the state achieve a sustainable, cost-effective solution to long waits in the ED,” Mr Massis said. 

“We’ll be urging the Andrews Labor Government to support adopting these extended scope physiotherapy practices to free up the number of beds in Victorian hospitals and improve patient outcomes.

“Physiotherapists’ expertise is well recognised – particularly in the public sector. In multidisciplinary practices in hospital settings, physiotherapists already help reduce waiting times and surgery needs and achieve higher patient satisfaction – and this would only improve with prescribing and referral to specialist rights in Victorian hospitals”.

In 2014, Health Workforce Australia (HWA) led projects enabling expanded scopes of practice for qualified physiotherapists to triage musculoskeletal patients in emergency departments – such as providing limited prescribing of medication, providing local anaesthetic joint injections and referral and discharge of a patient.(2)

Of the 14,512 patients treated by the physiotherapists in the HWA project, 93% were discharged within four hours, compared to less than 75% for similar patients seen by other practitioners. Patients also waited on average 30 minutes less, had shorter treatment time and their overall length of stay was reduced by 70 minutes. 

“Most importantly, the trial found patients reported good experiences and high levels of satisfaction with the care they received and the time it took to be seen by the physiotherapists,” Mr Massis said.

“If physiotherapists in Victorian hospitals are able to prescribe medication, benefits include monitoring if a patient responds to treatment and quickly adjusting their medication and physiotherapy treatment as necessary, without needing to see a doctor. Ultimately this reduces their time in hospital.”

The APA’s Pre-Budget Submission for 2015-16, detailing the APA’s recommendation for physiotherapists to refer to medical specialists was sent to all State and Federal health ministers

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


1) Australian Government Productivity Commission, January 2015, available at on 4 February 2015
2) Centre for Health Services Development, July 2014, HWA Expanded Scopes of Practice Program Evaluation: Physiotherapists in the Emergency Department Sub-Project Final Report , available at on 4 February 2015