OT News: Discover What's Happening

Browse the latest OTA updates, industry news and OT developments across Australia.

Primary Health

The Issue

On 1 July 2015, a network of 31 Primary Health Networks (PHNs) was established across Australia by the federal government, with a view to increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of medical services for patients and improving coordination of care. OTA welcomed the PHN initiative, and continues to remind government that occupational therapists, with their expertise in functional assessment and helping people to achieve practical goals, must be an integral part of primary care teams. OTA is working to ensure that other health professionals who are at the forefront of healthcare, such as General Practitioners, understand the role of OTs and how OTs can assist their clients. We continue to find this understanding lacking and, as a result, OT services underutilised.

OTA holds the view that substantial investment in preventive health care services is imperative not only to the wellbeing of individuals and communities, but to a sustainable health care system. The contribution that OTs can make to chronic disease prevention and management is substantial, and as the needs of our population change the demand for the services of OTs is likely to increase.

Unfortunately, there are too few publicly funded OT services available. Medicare-funded OT services are scarce and, additionally, most private health insurers are unwilling to cover these services. The out-of-pocket expense that OT services currently cost to those not covered under a compensatory scheme is a large barrier to the full benefit of occupational therapy services being realised in Australia.

OTA is also acutely aware of the disparity between health outcomes and life expectancy for Australians living in regional and remote parts of the country and those of people in our cities. While by no means an exact substitute for in-person occupational therapy services, OTA believes the use of telehealth during the Covid-19 pandemic has had a positive influence on this problem and advocates for its continuation beyond 31 December 2021.

But even with a greater understanding of the value of OTs and enhanced access to them, without the requisite workforce these services cannot be provided to Australians.

There is a rapidly developing occupational therapy workforce shortage, with most states and territories reporting an inability to fill advertised positions. Unsurprisingly, and in line with other health professions, this workforce shortage is most acute in rural and remote areas of the country. This shortage persists despite new undergraduate courses in occupational therapy being established almost every year, and graduate numbers rising accordingly.

At the same time, demand for occupational therapy services is expected to grow due to a range of factors including:

  • An increasingly ageing population with greater life expectancy, more complex needs and a preference to age in place;
  • Increased National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) coverage and the rise of individual funding models; and
  • Renewed commitment at all levels of government to improve mental health and suicide prevention outcomes.

Registration inefficiencies, limited career pathways and other workforce retention issues are all having a detrimental effect on the sustainability of the OT workforce. OTA regularly raises this matter with governments, offering constructive solutions to help address the problem.

The Goal


  • A primary health system that fully utilises the entire allied health workforce through cooperative multi-disciplinary teams.
  • Universal and affordable access to occupational therapy services for all Australians regardless of their geographic location.
  • A sustainable and future-proof allied health workforce that is supported by strong standards of practice and professional support networks.

Taking Action

  • OTA continues to advocate across all forums for a properly resourced commitment by governments at all levels to preventive care and the principle of wellness.
  • OTA is working to ensure that General Practitioners and other health professionals understand the role of OTs and how OTs can assist their clients.
  • OTA continues to advocate for equity of access to health care services regardless of an individual’s geographic location. In October 2021, OTA contributed a submission to the Senate Committee Inquiry into the Provision of general practitioner and related primary health services to outer metropolitan, rural, and regional Australians.
  • OTA continues to advocate for the development of a sustainable allied health workforce. In November 2021, OTA wrote a submission to the Department of Health commenting on the recently developed 10 Year Primary Health Care Plan draft.

OTA welcomes feedback about your experiences working in primary health care, and your ideas as to how health care services can be improved. OTA takes this feedback to government and key stakeholders to advocate for better outcomes for OTs, and their clients.

To provide your feedback on this important issue, please contact OTA.

To provide your feedback on this important issue, please contact OTA.

Contact OTA

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