Rural patients miss out in new healthcare training fund
10 October 2016
The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) is calling for the Federal Government to extend its Integrated Rural Training Pipeline for Medicine to the physiotherapy workforce to strengthen rural healthcare.
The narrow focus of the scheme on supporting the training of medical professionals means patients in non-metropolitan areas will continue to endure sub-par healthcare, with gaps across the physiotherapy, nursing and allied health workforces.
Chair of the APA’s Rural Members’ group, Daniel Mahony, said a whole-of-workforce approach is the only way of improving health outcomes in regional, rural and remote Australia.
"The Integrated Regional Training Hub initiative has nothing integrated about it and misses the reality of healthcare encompassing a range of health professionals not limited to doctors."
Data from the National Rural Health Alliance shows that physiotherapy, along with other allied health, has a funding deficit of between $260 and $345 million per year in rural and remote areas, which prevents many patients from receiving early intervention care and rehabilitation services.
Residents in these areas are at higher risk of death from heart disease, circulatory diseases and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Physiotherapists provide care alongside doctors in treating many of these diseases in cost-effective ways that avoid surgery.
While the APA strongly supports the government’s focus on regional health and applauds the announcement of a new National Rural Health Commissioner, the allocation of funding to solely support medical students to train and remain in rural areas is a missed opportunity to improve patient outcomes.
“Rural Australians currently have less access to physiotherapists than Australians who live in cities. If the government is serious about addressing patient outcomes and health workforce shortages in rural and remote Australia, they need to be looking at the workforce as a whole,” Mr Mahony said.
“Should further limits and lower payment thresholds be introduced, this will ultimately cost jobs in the health and aged-care services. We’ve seen the early market signals over the past week, since the Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016 was passed, and we fear more jobs may go,” he said.
Physiotherapy graduates who choose to take positions outside non-metropolitan areas do not currently have access to a national scheme that offers funding or in-kind support, such as housing, to ease the move from city to country.
“There are significant incentives already in place for medical students, while none exist for physiotherapists considering a rural career. Both professions face the same issues in transitioning to life outside the city, so it makes sense to have a more holistic scheme in place,” Mr Mahony said.
“Without more support for rural physiotherapy positions, the effect will be isolated GPs unable to manage the complexity and multitude of issues their patients have.”
• The Integrated Rural Training Pipeline focuses solely on training future doctors in regional Australia, without addressing the other health workforce issues that affect patient outcomes
• Multi-disciplinary care is needed to address the higher prevalence of chronic disease among rural and remote Australians
• Physiotherapists are present in urban areas at rates 2.5 to 1.5 times higher than rural and remote areas per 100,000 population
• More support is needed for physiotherapy graduates to pursue careers in rural areas, in line with the significant incentives already available for medical graduates
For further information, please contact: Emma Breheny, APA Communications
T 03 9092 0824 E firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA)
The APA is the peak body representing the interests of Australian physiotherapists and their patients. It is a national organisation with state and territory branches and specialty subgroups. The APA represents more than 23,000 members who conduct more than 23 million consultations each year. To find a physiotherapist in your area, visit www.physiotherapy.asn.au