Peak warns Senate about allied health exodus

The aged care sector at risk of losing its allied health workforce and access to services, the APA has told a Senate committee hearing.

The aged care sector is facing increased workforce pressures due to a diminishing allied health presence, with mandated targets required to ensure adequate allied health services,the peak body for Australia’s physiotherapists has told a public inquiry.

The Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee held a public hearing on Thursday as part of its inquiry into the Aged Care Amendment (Implementing Care Reform) Bill 2022.

The bill, which was introduced in late July, includes measures to require aged care homes to have a qualified registered nurse on site 24/7, cap home care fees, and improve transparency of information related to care costs.

Australian Physiotherapy Association president Scott Willis was asked about the increase in nursing care compared with the lack of focus on allied health and the subsequent impact on the care provided to aged care residents.

He said 24-hour nursing was a great initiative but added nurses were part of the team, which also included allied health practitioners, looking after aged care residents.

“From a nursing point of view and from a care point of view, we welcome the 24/7 nursing care. But it comes back to the skill set of those nurses who are going to be looking after the aged care residents,” Mr Willis told the inquiry. It shouldn’t be on numbers alone, he said.

On physiotherapy, Mr Willis said the APA was concerned about the reduction in numbers across the sector in the lead up to the introduction of new funding tool – the Australian National Aged Care Classification (AN-ACC).

“Even today we are hearing reports from a major provider telling us that up to 50 per cent of physiotherapists will be let go and there will be 50 per cent less physiotherapy within the aged care facilities. Now, even before 1 October when the AN-ACC is coming in, we’re hearing reports that contracts are being torn up and not renewed and staff are already being let go,” he said.

Scott Willis appearing at the Senate committee inquiry hearing into the Aged Care Amendment Bill

The APA and other stakeholders including the Allied Health Providers Association have been warning for over a year about the negative impact AN-ACC will have on allied health services. “Once you lose these qualified staff who have the passion and dedication and the knowledge of the full scope of practice of physiotherapy, it’s going to be [hard] to recoup that in the short term,” Mr Willis told the inquiry.

The chief executive officer of Queensland provider Allied Aged Care, Alwyn Blayse, also appeared at the hearing. “We’re facing a generational loss of some experienced aged care physios, and that is an absolute tragedy,” Mr Blayse told the inquiry.

He said he stood by his promise to staff a year ago that they would keep their jobs but added it was a difficult task. “Through the skin of my teeth, I’m managing to keep everybody’s jobs, and I will continue fighting for that, but it’s not been easy,” he said. “Because we can go and work in another area and make more money, but we want to work in aged care; we want to stay in residential nursing homes, and we can’t, the way this is playing out right now.”

Alwyn Blayse appearing at the Senate inquiry hearing into the Aged Care Amendment Bill

“I’ve got contracts cancelled too. Everybody has. There’s no such thing as a contract that will survive 1 October,” Mr Blayse said.

Call for manadated allied health benchmarks

On maintaining physiotherapy services for aged care residents, Mr Willis said additional legislation mandating allied health services was required.

“There needs to be an additional mechanism providing mandated targeted allied health services just to really ensure that delivery of restorative and reablement care that the royal commission identified as critical for maintaining quality of life in our older citizens within aged-care facilities.”

Currently there’s no minimum benchmark for allied health service provision, he said. “There needs to be another tranche of legislation that really looks at allied health, and physiotherapy of course is part of that.”

In response to a question about whether the sector could wait for a new reformed aged care bill 12 or 18 months down the track, Mr Willis raised “grave concerns” for the safety of residents.

“My main concern is the loss of manpower – the loss of some very good, qualified physiotherapists or allied health practitioners that provide a quality and safe service to our most vulnerable in our aged care facilities,” he said. “If [residents] haven’t got quality access to those services, I just have grave concerns for their safety within the facilities.

“We can put in some nurses and more care staff and pay them well, but this is teamwork. If you take part of that team out, it’s not just the team that suffers; it’s actually the sector. It’s the aged care sector that will suffer, as well as the consumer or our most vulnerable.”

The Senate committee is due to report on the inquiry on Wednesday 31 August.

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Tags: allied health, alwyn blayse, australian physiotherapy association, scott willis, senate committee inquiry,

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