Despite the significant investments in various sectors, the budget did not allocate funding to develop an allied health workforce strategy. This omission is concerning as the implementation of reforms across health, disability, and aged care without adequate workforce planning may not yield high returns for consumers and health professionals. The absence of a dedicated strategy for the allied health workforce is a disappointing aspect of the budget, given the crucial role these professionals play in the healthcare system.
The budget’s health measures were largely in response to the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce report released in February. The recognition that multidisciplinary teams are key to consumer-centered care is welcomed. However, the allied health sector hopes to see these investments backed by an achievable implementation plan that meaningfully involves allied health. The sector is optimistic about the potential of these measures but stresses the importance of a well-planned and effectively executed strategy.
Primary Health Network Multidisciplinary Teams
The budget has allocated $79.4 million over four years to strengthen the role Primary Health Networks (PHNs) play in commissioning multidisciplinary health care teams. This investment aims to improve the management of chronic conditions and reduce avoidable hospitalisations. Additionally, the budget includes measures to increase access for people with complex neurodevelopmental disorders or eligible disabilities, and to extend PHNs’ existing role in general practice support to private allied health, nursing, nurse practitioner and midwifery practices. However, the allied health sector cautions against a ‘one-size-fits all model’ and looks forward to working closely with PHNs as they begin to comprehensively commission allied health services.
Workforce Incentive Program (WIP)
The budget has allocated more than $400 million over four years to improve the quality and accessibility of multidisciplinary primary care and improve the financial sustainability of multidisciplinary general practice. This is achieved by increasing all payments under the Workforce Incentive Program – Practice Stream (WIP-PS). However, concerns have been raised about the WIP, particularly its potential to undermine the employment model of private allied health. The sector calls for accountability in how the funding is used, coupled with a robust evaluation to prevent cyclical inaction.
Digital Health Investment
The budget has allocated $6.1 million to increase allied health professionals’ connection to My Health Record (MHR). This investment, along with a broader investment across digital infrastructure and education campaigns, signals to allied health professionals the future importance of prioritising digital ways of working. The government sees a significant opportunity to improve care outcomes for consumers by ensuring allied health are integrated into all digital health initiatives from the outset.
Scope of Practice Review
The budget has allocated $3 million in 2023-24 and 2024-25 to undertake a review that examines current models of care against community needs. The review will recommend appropriate expansion to scopes of practices and models of care for a range of health professionals providing primary care services, including both registered and self-regulated practitioners such as medical practitioners, nurses, midwives, and allied health. The allied health sector is optimistic that this review will demonstrate models of care where allied health professionals add capacity to an already stretched system.
Despite significant commitments, including government funding for the increase to award wages for nursing and care staff and implementing regulatory reform of aged care, the budget does not provide dedicated funding for allied health care. However, there are elements of the budget that could be utilized to engage with the allied health sector to improve residential aged care.
The budget has allocated $139.9 million over four years to enhance the accountability and transparency of approved aged care providers through improvements to the Star Rating system. Additionally, $72.3 million has been allocated in 2023-24 to support the development and implementation of a new, stronger Aged Care Regulatory Framework to support the new Age Care Act, which is due to commence from 1 July 2024.
Furthermore, $25.3 million in 2023-24 has been allocated to ensure the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) is appropriately resourced to deliver its audit and compliance program in 2023–24. The budget also includes $12.9 million over two years from 2023–24 to improve food and nutrition in aged care through the development, monitoring, and enforcement of food and nutritional standards.
NDIS and Disability
The budget focuses on the sustainability of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) while facilitating quality outcomes for people with disabilities. However, it is highlighted that the involvement of allied health professionals is essential for key initiatives, including blended payment models, service innovation, effective outcome measurement, increased use of evidence-based supports, and access to quality, safe services throughout the country.
Rural and First Nations Health
The budget has allocated $47.2 million over five years to trial integrating services and explore the use of joint commissioning across primary health, disability, aged care, and veterans’ care sectors in up to ten locations. This is aimed at improving and streamlining access to services, including allied health, in rural and remote locations and for First Nations communities.
The budget has made provisions to continue existing support measures for individuals suffering from long COVID throughout the current calendar year. However, there is growing concern as the Commonwealth’s funding for the Healthdirect’s Living with COVID service is set to conclude on 31 December 2023. Additionally, the financial support for digital mental health services, which are crucial in meeting the increased demand due to COVID, is slated to end within this fiscal year.
Chronic Disease Management (CDM) Items Changes
Starting from 1 November 2024, there will be a restructuring of the GP CDM planning and review items. The existing GP Management Plan (GPMP) and Team Care Arrangement (TCA) will be merged into a new, consolidated CDM planning item. To facilitate a smooth transition to the new CDM plans, transitional arrangements will be implemented from 1 November 2024 to 31 October 2026. During this transitional period, patients will retain the ability to access allied health services through their current GPMPs and TCAs.
The budget has earmarked $586.9 million for mental health, a portion of which is dedicated to substantial funding for psychologists and resources to enhance the broader health workforce’s skills in recognizing and addressing mental health concerns. Additionally, the budget sets aside $91.3 million over a four-year period to promptly tackle pressing issues in the psychology training pipeline. This includes funding for postgraduate psychology positions, internships, supervisor training sessions, and a range of measures aimed at improving training and recruitment processes.
And so, the 2023 Federal Budget has made significant investments in various sectors that will impact the allied health sector in Australia. While the budget has some notable shortcomings, it also presents several opportunities for the sector.
Disclaimer: This blog is intended as a general overview of the topic and should not be construed as professional legal or medical advice.
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