Early in my podiatry career, whilst undertaking a locum community health service role, I was confronted with a dilemma. A child I was consulting needed orthotic devices to manage their foot pain, however, their parents were unable to afford the expense. I liaised with my line manager who consented for the organisation to provide the devices pro bono. However, in a subsequent meeting, the senior manager disapproved of this action. The dilemma created an intriguing discussion about roles, responsibilities and the appropriate course of action for all parties.
The costs involved
In public hospitals and community health centres it is generally expected that the parents or guardians of children who are prescribed orthotic devices will cover the expenses associated with the direct manufacture of devices. These costs are significantly less than orthotic devices purchased in a private setting, yet the monetary outlay may still prove considerable.
When you consider families that are experiencing financial disadvantage and then you factor in the constant growth of any child’s feet, new and larger devices may need to be purchased fairly often.
There are alternate pathways available for podiatrists to dispense orthotic devices to children of financially disadvantaged households who are unable to afford associated costs.
For example, podiatrists practising in Victorian public hospitals and community health centres are somewhat familiar with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Victorian Aids and Equipment Program. This program provides people experiencing a permanent or long-term disability with access to subsidised aids equipment, home and vehicle modifications. EnableNSW is the equivalent platform for NSW-based podiatrists to assist local people with health needs. If you know of similar programs that are active in other states, please let me know and I can update this.
The goal behind Footscape
Upon establishing Footscape I was determined that our podiatry charity could provide an effective pathway to fund orthotic devices for disadvantaged children in a timely manner.
Indeed, I’m proud to report that since 2013 the Children’s Orthotic Project has funded three hundred orthotic devices for Victorian children encountering foot pathology attending affiliate organisations. In addition, during the past two years, recipient children are concurrently eligible to receive new footwear to aid their schooling and recreation. Footscape has welcomed the amazing support of Orthotech Laboratory to ensure the sustainability of the Children’s Orthotic Project.
Sonia Lancaster, podiatrist at Sunraysia Community Health Services, highlighted the benefits of the project to the Mildura region:
‘Since 2018 the Footscape Children’s Orthotic Project has enabled Sunraysia Community Health Services to fast-track provision of orthotics and footwear to eligible children who otherwise would struggle to afford. We have forged closer links with the wider multidisciplinary team, having a number of referrals from within Sunraysia Community Health Services and externally from private podiatrists.’
Our future plans
The Footscape team are now endeavouring to streamline and expand this project throughout Australia. Podiatrists employed in public hospitals and community health centres across the country and encouraged to liaise with Footscape and get involved with delivering the Children’s Orthotic Project to assist financially disadvantaged children encountering foot pathology.
Please contact me anytime to get involved or find out more.