Message from Dr Anne-marie Boxall
Since our first issue of the newsletter, many of you will have been busy preventing or managing COVID outbreaks. Thank you for your ongoing hard work, resilience, and commitment to keeping Australians safe.
International Allied Health Professionals Day was also celebrated on 12 October. I hope you were able to do something special to celebrate this year. In my video message, I reflected on the valuable contributions allied health professionals are making to improving the health and wellbeing of Australians, and on some emerging opportunities to shape our work into the future.
Over the last few months, I have continued to enjoy meeting with a range of allied health organisations and professionals. It is great to hear about your priorities, challenges, and ideas for reform. In this newsletter, we outline some initiatives the Australian Government is progressing, and I hope you will get involved where they are relevant to you.
And finally, after such a challenging year I hope you can enjoy some rest and recuperation over the holiday season. I look forward to continuing to work with you all in 2022!
Best wishes, Anne-marie
New initiatives to support access to allied health services
Update on Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items
New MBS items allow allied health professionals to participate in case conferences
From 1 November 2021, new Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items are available for eligible allied health professionals who participate in multidisciplinary case conferences.
The new items are in response to recommendations from the MBS Review. They aim to improve care coordination and deliver better outcomes for patients with complex needs. The new items apply to non-admitted patients under the care of an eligible allied health practitioner for:
- Chronic disease management under the care of a General Practitioner (GP) in either community or residential aged care settings.
- Early diagnosis and treatment for children under 13 years with, or suspected of having, a pervasive developmental disorder (including autism) under the care of a consultant psychiatrist or paediatrician.
- An eligible disability, diagnosed or suspected, for children under 13 years, under the care of a specialist, consultant physician or GP.
We have developed resources for clinicians to support uptake of these new items.
For more information on the new items, who is eligible, and how they can be accessed, there is a dedicated fact sheet on the MBS Online webpage. The full item descriptors are also now available on the MBS Online website at www.mbsonline.gov.au. You can also subscribe to future MBS updates by visiting MBS Online and clicking ‘Subscribe’.
On 7 October 2021, I hosted a sector webinar to promote the new items. A recording of the event can be accessed from the Department of Health website, alongside the presentation slides that were used and responses to Q&A answered out of session.
The Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon Greg Hunt MP, has issued a media release to announce the new items coming online.
The Department of Health provides an email advice service for providers seeking advice on interpretation of the MBS items and their rules and the Health Insurance Act and associated regulations. If you have a query relating exclusively to interpretation of the Schedule, you should email askMBS@health.gov.au.
Permanent telehealth to strengthen universal Medicare
From 1 January 2022, telehealth services introduced in response to COVID-19 will be ongoing. Eligible patients all around Australia will continue to have access to primary care via telehealth, if clinically appropriate. This includes GP, nursing, midwifery, and allied health services. Medical specialist and consultant physician telehealth services will also continue, with some refinements.
Primary care telehealth eligibility requirements and exemptions will largely stay the same for GP services, and arrangements for allied health will continue unchanged.
Please find a link to the announcement on the Department of Health website.
MBS changes to allied health
From 1 March 2023, access will be improved for complex allied health services to:
- increase the number of allied health assessment items for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Complex Neurodevelopmental Disorder (CND) and Disability (currently Autism, Pervasive Development Disorder and Disability Services) from four to eight per lifetime
- extend the eligibility of assessments under Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Complex Neurodevelopmental Disorder (CND) and Disability Services to 25 years of age
- improve allied health collaboration during assessments by allowing inter-disciplinary referrals between allied professionals during the assessment phase to facilitate in timely diagnosis
- pooling access for Indigenous Australians to allied services available under a General Practice Management Plan and Health Assessment, so that they can more easily access all 10 services.
Support for allied health professionals, students, and researchers
New safety and quality standards for allied health
The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (the Commission) recently launched the new National Safety and Quality Primary and Community Healthcare Standards, which provide a clear framework for healthcare services such as allied health to deliver safe health care.
The new standards describe elements shared by all safe, high-quality healthcare services. That is, they should be well-managed, ensure that people who use their service will be safe from harm, and enable patients to be partners in their own health care and to know their opinion is valued by the healthcare professional. They comprise three key standards: Clinical Governance Standard, Partnering with Consumers Standard and Clinical Safety Standard – each with different elements to be implemented by healthcare services.
I encourage the sector to become familiar with the new standards, ahead of voluntary independent accreditation being introduced next year.
The Commission is developing comprehensive resources to support healthcare services implement the new standards. To access the new standards, resources and frequently asked questions, or to watch a recording of the launch, visit www.safetyandquality.gov.au/pchs.
Medical Research Future Fund
The Australian Government is committed to supporting life-saving health and medical research through the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF). As part of the 2019–20 Budget, the Government announced a $5 billion, 10-year investment plan for the MRFF, which provides secure funding to support lifesaving research, create jobs, strengthen industry, and reaffirm Australia’s reputation as a world leader in medical research.
Researchers can find information about MRFF grant opportunities from the MRFF grants calendar. The calendar includes details of all grant opportunities from 1 January 2020 (with direct links to relevant GrantConnect webpages), key dates for minimum data and applications, and the funding status of each grant opportunity. Details on grants that have been awarded can be found at MRFF grant recipients.
Researchers are encouraged to sign up to the MRFF monthly newsletter for MRFF announcements, opportunities and outcomes. They can also follow the MRFF on Twitter - Australian Government Department of Health (@healthgovau) and LinkedIn.
Emerging Priorities and Consumer Driven Research (EPCDR) Initiative 2021 Chronic Musculoskeletal Conditions in Children and Adolescents Grant Opportunity
On 14 October 2021, Minster Hunt announced the opening of a new $20 million grant opportunity to be funded from the MRFF’s EPCDR Initiative targeted at Chronic Musculoskeletal Conditions in Children and Adolescents.
This opportunity supports Australian medical research and medical innovation projects that develop or improve approaches for the early diagnosis of chronic musculoskeletal conditions occurring in children, and/or generate knowledge that supports the development and implementation of improved therapeutic regimes and models of care for chronic musculoskeletal diseases in children.
The grant opportunity will fund three streams of research. Stream 1 will target chronic autoimmune disease that effect the musculoskeletal system such as juvenile idiopathic arthritis, juvenile systemic lupus erythematosus and juvenile scleroderma. Stream 2 will target musculoskeletal pain such as knee pain, lower back pain and neck pain, including complex pain syndromes and recurrent headache (regardless of aetiology). Stream 3 will target congenital musculoskeletal disease such as muscular dystrophy, scoliosis, and hip dysplasia.
This grant opportunity is being administered by the National Health and Medical Research Council (www.nhmrc.gov.au) on behalf of the Department of Health. Further information for this grant opportunity can be found on the GrantConnect website (www.grants.gov.au).
Major reforms under way
Primary Health Care 10 Year Plan
The Australian Government released the draft Primary Health Care 10 Year Plan (the Plan) for public consultation between 13 October and 9 November 2021.
The draft Plan provides a framework to transition to a future focused primary health care system that is digitally enabled, provides equitable access to multidisciplinary team‑based care and enables collaboration at regional and local levels.
The Plan recognises that primary health care is central to keeping people healthy in the community, wherever they may live and across all stages of life. Critically, the primary health care sector has underpinned the successful response to COVID-19 in communities across Australia.
The Australian Government recognises the significant contribution made by allied health to primary care in Australia. The allied health sector was represented on the Primary Health Care Steering Group by Ms Gail Mulcair (Allied Health Professions Australia) and Mr Phil Calvert (Australian Physiotherapy Association). The Steering Group recommendations to Government were released on 13 October 2021 and the report is available at Primary Health Reform Steering Group Recommendations September 2021. The Plan is informed by the recommendations of the Steering Group as well as findings from two years of consultations.
Finalisation of the Plan is subject to consideration of Government.
National Roadmap for Improving the Health of People with Intellectual Disability
On 13 August 2021, the Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon Greg Hunt MP, officially launched the National Roadmap for Improving the Health of People with Intellectual Disability (the Roadmap). The Roadmap is published on the Department of Health website.
The Roadmap is a landmark document that sets out a comprehensive range of actions to improve the health of people with intellectual disability. It will form part of the Primary Health Care 10 Year Plan and supports health and wellbeing outcomes under Australia’s Disability Strategy 2021-2031, which is due to be released later this year.
There will be a governance group to oversee and provide advice on implementation of the Roadmap. It will also monitor progress with implementation of actions under the Roadmap. Allied Health Professions Australia will be represented in this governance group. Allied health will be critical for the Roadmap to achieve its objectives.
The Australian Government is investing $19.26 million to implement four priority actions identified under the Roadmap. This initial funding includes:
- $6.56 million to develop a Primary Care Enhancement Program for people with intellectual disability
- $6.7 million to improve the uptake and implementation of Annual Health Assessments using the Comprehensive Health Assessment Program (CHAP) tool for people with intellectual disability to better prevent and manage chronic and complex conditions
- $1.4 million to enable scoping and co-design of a model for a National Centre of Excellence in Intellectual Disability Health
- $4.7 million to support consultations on including mandatory competencies on health care for people with intellectual disability in tertiary education health curricula, and to develop specific and specialised curricula content.
National Disability Insurance Scheme National Workforce Plan: 2021-2025
The Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC, released the NDIS National Workforce Plan: 2021-2025 (the Plan) on 10 June 2021. The Plan outlines the Australian Government’s commitment to work with NDIS participants, industry, and other stakeholders to grow a responsive and capable workforce for the NDIS.
Growing the allied health workforce is a critical component of ensuring the care and support workforce can support NDIS participants to meet their needs and achieve their goals. There are several initiatives within the Plan that will support the growth of the allied health workforce, including increasing student placements for allied health professionals in the disability sector.
The Department of Social Services hosted a Sector Briefing on implementation of the Plan on
14 December 2021. A recording of the briefing, as well more information about the Plan including the latest Quarterly Update on implementation, is available on the Department of Social Services’ website.