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New report shows critical need for allied health workers, as wait lists grow across the country

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9/08/2022

A new report has revealed alarming shortages and increasing staff turnover rates of allied health workers across the country, which could put people with disability at risk.

The data, released today by the peak body for disability, National Disability Services (NDS), is part of its latest Workforce Census Report and found difficulty accessing allied health services was a contributing factor to underutilisation of NDIS funds, particularly for remote areas.

The report also states the data may point to the long-term national neglect of allied health workforce needs, which it finds the NDIS National Workforce Plan is unlikely to effectively address.

Key data on allied health included:

  • The permanent employment rate of disability support workers remained steady at 53 per cent, but there was a decline in the rate for allied health workers, from 83 per cent to 78 per cent.
  • Allied health therapy shortage - Providers have given feedback anecdotally that difficulties in recruiting and retaining allied health workers are driving lengthy wait times for therapy services from six months to up to two years.
  • Increased turnover - The sector turnover rate for both casual and permanent employees increased over the survey period, from 22 per cent to 26 per cent for casual employees and from 10 per cent to 12 per cent for permanent employees. The casual turnover rate for allied health workers increased from 13 per cent to 20 per cent, but by just three percent for disability support workers.
  • Reduced hours - Disability support worker weekly hours declined by 1.8 hours, while allied health worker hours declined from 26.6 hours to 18.2 hours, a decrease of 8.4 hours
NDS CEO Laurie Leigh said the report shines a light on the continued disruption the sector has faced over the last financial year, with urgent need for collaboration between industry and government.

“It is clear from the findings in this annual census report that the disability workforce is still feeling the ongoing impact of COVID-19,” she said.

“With the Federal Government Job and Skills Summit coming up in a few weeks, now is the time for the government and providers to come together to ensure we are moving forward with the right measures to ensure disability workforces are supported during this turbulent period for the sector.”

“This report also highlights the ongoing issues faced by the disability sector in recruiting the allied health workforce needed, especially to provide services in remote and very remote areas.”

“The disability sector is ready and willing to work collaboratively with the Federal Government to update the Disability Workforce Plan, and urge the government to also consider a national Allied Health Workforce Plan to map workforce gaps and implement strategies to meet projected need for allied health supports, including under the NDIS.”

(VIC) Dr Chris Atmore Manager of Policy and Advocacy of Allied Health Professions Australia says questions should be raised as to the reasons for the drop in permanent employment rates for this sought-after workforce group.

“One factor may be difficulty in ensuring that allied health workers are provided with appropriate supervision and mentoring, due to rising provider costs,” she said.

“Despite concerns, the most recent Pricing Review has, for the third consecutive year, failed to index allied health prices, with the NDIA flagging the possibility of price decreases.”

(WA) Alison Kelly, CEO of Therapy Focus said the information provided in this report highlights how significant workforce challenges compromise the vital role allied health plays in enabling people to achieve meaningful outcomes.

“There is a finite pool of highly skilled allied health professionals, with demands also from health, aged care and other sectors. For disability service providers, the current pricing does not acknowledge the complex nature of the work undertaken, compliance obligations for registered providers or training and supervision costs,” she said.

“Investment in allied health and therapy staff will elicit significant short and long term benefits to people with disability, their families and carers, the community and funders.

“This investment should reflect real cost of living and wages pressures; include service pricing that reflects complexity; maintain ongoing implementation of the workforce development and retention grants; and continue to focus attention on the long term nature of these issues that results in meaningful change.”

(NT) Annie Rily, CEO of Carpentaria Disability Services says servicing remote Indigenous communities poses its own set of challenges, with difficulties attracting experienced workers to the regions.

“Injecting new allied health graduates into remote Indigenous communities without the right support can actually be quite challenging for workers, contributing to staff turnover rates,” she said.

“We know that it takes a lot for these communities to trust us and to do that means ensuring a commitment to ongoing services, as well as consistent staff.

"NDIA planners must recognise the unique complexities that allied health staff navigate in remote country communities in comparison to urban services and accommodate for that must be considered in the NDIS service design. It is also critical to align Allied Health tertiary education with supported remote student placements and cultural awareness training."

(TAS) Dee-Anne Kapene CEO Coastal Residential Service says wait lists for allied health professionals are compromising participant safety and wellbeing.

"It is difficult to access good quality allied health professionals, and even more difficult to attract them to the regions," she said.

"Clients are waiting three to six months, which is concerning as therapists are needed to sign off on necessary living assets such as safety rails."

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