Chief Allied Health Officer Newsletter Issue 1 – August 2021

In this issue: message from Dr Anne-marie Boxall, new initiatives to support access to allied health services and support for allied health professionals, students, and researchers

Date published:
Health sector

Message from Dr Anne-marie Boxall

Since starting as the Commonwealth Chief Allied Health Officer (CAHO) in July last year, I have met with many dedicated allied health professionals working to improve the health and wellbeing of Australians. I’d like to take this opportunity to formally thank you all for your hard work, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges for the sector and the community.

The purpose of this newsletter is to keep you informed of the work the Australian Government is doing to support access to high quality allied health services. This work requires strong partnerships across federal, state and territory governments, and with the broader allied health sector. I am grateful for the many opportunities I have had to work closely with the sector – for example, through the National Allied Health Advisory and Chief Officers Committee and the Australian Allied Health Leadership Forum. I also greatly appreciate the constructive engagement with my office from many individual organisations and allied health professionals. It’s helpful to hear your insights about service delivery on-the-ground.

I intend to circulate this newsletter on a quarterly basis. I would love to hear suggestions about topics you’d like to know more about. Please feel free to contact my office if you would like to get in touch about the newsletter, or other allied health matters.

Best wishes, Anne-marie

New initiatives to support access to allied health services

New Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items allow allied health professionals to participate in case conferences

The 2021-22 Budget included funding to create new Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items that reimburse allied health professionals for participating in multidisciplinary case conferences.

This includes case conferences for patients with a Chronic Disease Management Plan, and children aged under 13 years under the care of a paediatrician or psychiatrist that need early diagnosis and treatment of autism or any other pervasive development disorder.

The new items will mirror those for other participating providers, including the scheduled fee and duration.

The Department will be engaging with key sector stakeholders over the coming months to implement the new items.

The new items will be available from 1 November 2021.

New MBS items for people living in residential aged care

New temporary MBS items are now available to support people living in residential aged care facilities (RACFs) with their mental and physical health, especially those who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

These items are available until 30 June 2022.

Residents can now access an additional five services per calendar year for selected physical therapy services (exercise physiology, occupational therapy, and physiotherapy).

Residents can also access up to 20 Medicare subsidised individual psychological services each calendar year under the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and GPs through the MBS (Better Access) initiative.

For all items, the resident must have a relevant treatment, management or care plan from their GP, Other Medical Practitioner (OMP) or psychiatrist.

Flag fall fees are also now available for GPs, OMPs and allied health practitioners, making it easier for them to deliver face-to-face services in RACFs.

In addition, new temporary face-to-face MBS items have been introduced for RACF residents to support longer initial individual allied health chronic disease management services and initial Indigenous follow up services.

Fact sheets on the temporary MBS items for allied health providers are available. Information for GPs and Other Medical Providers can be found on th Medicare Benefits Schedule online website.

The Department of Health’s AskMBS advisory has additional information on the temporary MBS items, as part of an advisory on allied health items for chronic disease management. More information is available on the AskMBS Advisories webpage.

Aged care reform and allied health

The Australian Government has announced significant new investment for the aged care sector in response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Safety and Quality, and more will follow as policy development continues.

Two projects relating to allied health have been announced.

The Government is investing $0.5 million in 2021-22 to fund a short-term project that will explore the reasons people living in residential aged care have unplanned admissions to hospitals.

The project will also examine models that incentivise the use of multidisciplinary teams – including allied health professionals – to reduce avoidable emergency department presentations and hospital admissions.

The Government is also investing $0.7 million in 2021-22 to examine existing data on allied health. While this project is primarily focused on the aged care workforce, it is expected that the results will inform future work on allied health workforce data.

These projects are part of the Government’s aged care reform package. The full plan for aged care reform can be found on the Aged care reforms webpage.

Improving access to allied health services in rural Australia

The National Rural Health Commissioner (NRHC), Adjunct Professor Ruth Stewart, Associate Professor Faye McMillan, Deputy NRHC, and I meet regularly to consider ways of improving allied health services in regional, rural and remote Australia. This includes progressing recommendations from the Report on the Improvement of Access, Quality and Distribution of Allied Health Services in Regional, Rural and Remote Australia. Read the report online.

We co-convened a workshop on Rural Allied Health Service and Learning Consortia on 1 June 2021 in Queenstown, Tasmania. The event was hosted by the West Coast Council.

The workshop brought together more than 90 stakeholders from all over Australia, including: representatives from Commonwealth, state and territory Departments of Health, Education and Disability; University Departments of Rural Health; allied health peak bodies; consumer representatives; and individual health professionals.

Workshop participants examined three case studies of innovative service and/or learning models currently operating in rural and remote areas.

They identified barriers to innovative funding approaches, and potential solutions that increase the provision of allied health services in rural and remote communities.

I am discussing the outcomes of the workshop with my jurisdictional counterparts and will continue working with the Office of the NRHC to progress funding options for progressing this recommendation. Read more on the National Rural Health Commissioner webpage.

Support for allied health professionals, students, and

New scholarships for allied health professionals

New Aged Care Nursing and Allied Health Dementia Scholarships were announced in the 2021- 22 Budget. These scholarships are for allied health professionals wanting to gain qualifications in dementia care. They are part of the Australian Government’s efforts to drive improvements to the safety and quality of care given to senior Australians.

The Mental Health Nursing, Allied Health and Peer Lived Experience Scholarship Program was also announced in the 2021-22 Budget. It will support mental health nurses, allied health practitioners (including psychologists) completing mental health related tertiary, vocational and continued professional development courses in mental health settings.

This investment will help to address mental health workforce shortages.

The Government has also expanded the Allied Health Rural Generalist Pathway and Allied Health Assistant Workforce Package. This program aims to improve the capacity, quality, distribution and mix of the allied health workforce so it can better meet the needs of Australian communities. It provides allied health professionals with formal education, structured supervision, and support. The Allied Health Assistant Workforce package increases the number of Allied Health Assistants available to support allied health practices in rural and remote regions of Australia.

Further information can be found on the Department of Health's Budget 2021–22 webpage.

Primary Health Care Data Asset: Physiotherapy project

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) is developing a Primary Health Care Data Asset that will help us better understand the patient journey, fill in primary care data and information gaps, and become an accessible and valuable source of evidence for researchers, policymakers and the public.

As part of its work on the Primary Health Care Data Asset, the AIHW is undertaking a physiotherapy data capacity and capability project. This project aims to understand the current physiotherapy data ecosystem, its potential to contribute to national reporting on health services provided by physiotherapists, the health status and health outcomes of physiotherapy clients, and the broader primary care patient journey.

With the support of the Australian Physiotherapy Association, the AIHW has already done two digital health audits; they were conducted during May and June 2021. The audits included questions about the use of digital health technologies, the type of information captured in practice management software, and how the data are recorded and used.

The response from physiotherapists was strong. The information collected from physiotherapists will be used to develop a physiotherapy data model and support a physiotherapy demonstration project. After that, the AIHW aims to build on the success of the physiotherapy project by extending it to the broader allied health sector. AIHW’s work in the allied health stream will also support work being done by of the Office of the Chief Allied Health Officer at the Australian Government Department of Health.

COVID-19 infection control guidance

With support from the Australian Government, the ANU Research School of Population and the offices of the ACT Chief Allied Health Officer and SA Chief Allied and Scientific Health Officer have collaborated to develop checklists for allied health care staff and practitioners providing face to face services during COVID-19. The checklists aim to minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission when providing in-person care in practice and home care settings.

Further information can be found on the RSPH website.

In addition, a new framework is now available to help embed the Principles of Infection Prevention and Control in Allied Health Practice into teaching curriculums. The framework outlines the most up-to-date information on infection prevention and control and provides advice on how to apply this in various settings relevant to the profession.

The framework was developed by Allied Health Professions Australia and the Australian Council of Deans of Health Sciences (ACDHS) on behalf of the Australian Allied Health Leadership Forum. The framework will soon be available on the ACDHS website.

Updates to the Department of Health website

The Australian Government Department of Health’s website now has more information on allied health. The website includes information about allied health professions, the Australian workforce and system, the benefits of allied health professionals, and how we are supporting allied health professionals and patients.

We will continue to update the website over time. We welcome feedback on topics you think might be of interest to the general public.

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