Podiatrists may have seen the recently-released, Strengthening Medicare Taskforce report. While the allied health sector is mentioned throughout the report, what does it mean for podiatrists working in Australia today?
Until further details are forthcoming, it is difficult to fully gauge how this report will impact podiatrists. As the Allied Health Professions Australia (AHPA) Chair and Taskforce member Antony Nicholas said, “We encourage reforms that strengthen multidisciplinary team care and support funding mechanisms that allow allied health professionals to work to their full scope. However we caution that reform without an implementation roadmap and a commitment to engaging with the allied health sector will ultimately result in more of the same.”
Here are some key developments from the report.
The report recommends increasing the commissioning of allied health services by Primary Health Networks (PHNs) in under served and financially disadvantaged communities.
What could this mean for podiatrists? It may increase the availability of allied health services in these areas and provide additional job opportunities. This requires additional government-funding and workforce reforms, amongst other initiatives. An implementation plan, set to follow this report’s release, should contain such detail.
The Australian Podiatry Association will certainly advocate for podiatrists to not be regarded in any way as an ‘add-on’ to a PHN, but rather, as integral to such reform.
The report recommends fast-tracking work to improve the supply and distribution of primary care professionals, including allied health professionals such as podiatrists. This could include measures such as targeted recruitment and retention programs, increased funding for education and training programs, and increased support for continuing professional development (CPD) for podiatrists.
For this to happen, it must be bolstered by a strong digital ecosystem with the necessary infrastructure to record diverse allied health data.
What could this mean for podiatrists? These initiatives could provide additional opportunities for podiatrists to develop new skills or areas of special interest; something APodA strongly supports through its existing CPD programs and career framework opportunities. It remains to be seen whether such fast tracking will be supported by additional funding and widespread reform. Related issues are addressed in APodA’s Workforce Summit Report.
The report recommends the establishment of a Primary Care Workforce Planning and Development Taskforce to provide ongoing advice to the Australian Government on the supply and distribution of primary care professionals, including allied health professionals.
What could this mean for podiatrists? It could give the profession a more active voice in shaping the future of the primary care system. While it may be tempting to individually advocate, for the greatest outcome such efforts must be led in collaboration with the wider allied health sector. To that end, APodA is working closely with AHPA, who provided a media release in response to the report’s release.
APodA has been advocating for the inclusion of podiatry services in primary care and for improved access to podiatry services in under served and financially disadvantaged communities. In the lead up to the report’s release, APodA provided a submission to the Taskforce outlining the role of podiatrists in the provision of primary care, and highlighting the importance of access to podiatry services in preventing and managing chronic conditions such as diabetes.
APodA has also been involved in ongoing discussions with the Australian Government on the importance of including podiatrists in the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) – and ensuring that podiatry services are adequately funded and recognised as an integral part of the primary care system.
We will continue to advocate for the inclusion of podiatrists in the implementation of the Taskforce’s recommendations, and to stand firm on areas such as the Workforce Incentive Program (WIP), mentioned in the report’s recommendations.
To this point, APodA shared the following statement on this issue: “The Medicare health budget is heavily focused on the general practice workforce and includes $1.4 million for the Practice Incentive Program and Workforce Incentive Program (WIP), supporting additional general practices to become accredited and access these payments. Our concerns around the WIP, including the associated impacts on small regional and rural allied health practices remain.”
In addition to these actions, APodA held the Australian National Podiatry Workforce summit in late 2022. This resulted in the publication of the Workforce Summit Report, which touches on a number of themes within the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce report. Likewise, APodA published the Stepping Up – Podiatry 2030 Report, to create a blueprint around the issues most likely to affect podiatrists by the year 2030.
APodA looks forward to learning what the next steps are beyond the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce report, given the implementation of this report is what matters most to the podiatrists we represent.