Alarming Allied Health Problems in Australia need urgent transformation

Opinion piece written by Jay Ibrahim

The recent Omicron threat, and the long-standing coronavirus pandemic over the past two years, has stretched medical resources to the limit, and it is no different when it comes to allied health. 

The pandemic in Australia has illuminated the need for long-term, sustainable funding of our country’s health systems, and it is clear allied health in particular needs a sizable injection of tens of millions of dollars in new funding. 

As allied health professionals working in a tough environment, we are constantly facing increased demand for services as the population grows, and situations and individual circumstances change over time. 

As this demand for allied health services increases, we feel that we are under pressure to service that level of demand while having a chronic shortage of resources, tools and training to accommodate these massive changes.

We are too far behind in educating ourselves about how to meet this demand, where we can place our time and how we can manage the influx. 

Instead, we are pre-empted with the notion that we should be able to adapt. This is not good enough. 

In reality, what needs to happen is the following:

1. We need to inform the next generation of allied health professionals of the demands and how to manage changes adequately

2. In the world of the NDIS, many professionals that become behaviour practitioners are not trained for the role, as it is not defined accurately. 

We need to define the role, the responsibilities associated with it and the magnitude of the role.

The approach, insight and directions of a behaviour practitioner will change the lives of their participant and provider for at least the next 12 months. 

However most practitioners are not equipped with the skills to make judgements or provide insights or evidence-based intervention, and have no concept of person-centred approaches.

3. Apart from a lack of funding, I believe the shortage is coming from lack of the skills and knowledge highlighted above, the inability to articulate what the role entails and a dearth of guidance about how to deliver this role with confidence and conviction 

4. An elective in university that educates allied health students on the above. 

5. The above has been worsened by Covid stresses, as individuals are more worried about lockdown rules changing than they are about catching the virus. 

They are afraid of being restricted and hence not able to work and thus unable to provide for their families. Most of the families that I work with voiced this opinion. 

In addition, allied health work is hands on; seeing clients face-to-face terrifies practitioners due to the potential consequences. 

If practitioners have up-to-date training about how to avoid infection, how to manage the virus, and a compensation or contingency plan that supports practitioners if they do catch the virus, that will provide peace, transparency, comfort and most importantly reassurance that everything will be fine – especially as we head into winter with the threat of new covid variants.

6. It is extremely difficult for practitioners to prepare for uncertainty when they believe that they are not best informed. 

Hence, they will default to safety measures or detach all together from any responsibility placed on them. 

Therefore, they will resolve to do jobs that make them feel in control.

Despite the rise of telehealth, it is best practice for allied health workers to be out in the community. It is so important for practitioners to be able to observe, evaluate, analyse and strategise in person.

With winter coming, the NDIS needs to quickly adopt these recommendations as part of a paradigm shift that involves a transformational amount of new funding. 


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