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Physio peak fears boost to nurse hours will cut allied health funding

The physiotherapy peak body fears the government's promise to raise nursing hours in residential care will cut the budget allocated for allied health services.

The new AN-ACC funding model, set to replace the Aged Care Funding Instrument from October 1st, is expected to provide allied health services with a resident budget of roughly $225 per day.

Yet, the federal government is still to reveal the model's precise figures and outlines.

National president of the Australian Physiotherapy Association, Scott Willis, worries Labor's pledge to place 24/7 nurses in residential care will negatively affect funding promised to allied health.

"We still haven't got a real understanding of the AN-ACC funding and how it's going to fit in with the care minutes the government have placed," he says.

"We're concerned that that will come from our allied health funding.

"Especially with no boost to compensate for the increased Consumer Price Index (CPI) allowance in aged care, it will put another added barrier and possibly lack of funding for allied health."

CPI, the percentage that measures household goods and service inflation, has risen by 5.2 per cent since March last year and is predicted to stay its course upward.

While the government has said it will start subsidy indexation from July 1st, it anticipates the aged care figures to be well over $85,000 in 2022-23 – an increase of nearly 10 per cent per resident compared with the budget in 2021-22.

Willis foreshadows higher living costs and services will have an adverse impact on residents' access to allied health.

Since AN-ACC's model doesn't specify how care homes spend money earmarked for residents, it may lead to facilities reducing allied health services to save costs.

"We can't just rely on one funding pool for one funding model; both state and federal have their responsibilities," Scott says.

"They need to get together and stop working as a silo.

"All forms of government and bureaucracy need to work together and create a pathway in developing a model that provides what it was always supposed to be set up for - one that provides the best pathway for someone that's ageing.

"Physiotherapy can help prevent falls, offer restorative and incontinence care and address mobility issues."

The service can keep people out of the hospital, which is the most expensive form of treatment for anyone to access, according to Scott.

Nevertheless, a 2018-19 survey by the Aged Care Royal Commission found that only 2 per cent of Home Care Packages' budget was spent on allied health assistance.

Less than half of the residents had received fewer than five allied health services in a year.

Despite the Royal Commission recommendations, Willis says physiotherapy remains an under-used resource in residential care.

"Physiotherapy in aged care is an essential service – it's not just a luxury, and I think that's how the government and aged care providers look at it," he says.

APA is pushing for Labor's commitment to appropriately fund allied health and attribute specific minutes to physiotherapy.

"They plan to expand effectiveness and safety in aged care, and I think that includes provision for allied health services like physiotherapy, rehabilitative and restorative care," Willis says.

He's still awaiting a response from both the Aged Care Minister Anika Wells and Health Minister Mark Butler to discuss funding arrangements. 

"We haven't had any correspondence from the government," Willis says.

"We've written to them, looking to set up a meeting to discuss the implementation of the AN-ACC model and the funding arrangements for aged care, but still, we haven't heard anything from them.

"They've got our information and we'll be looking to meet with them in the near future."

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