2022 SA Election
Occupational Therapy Australia sent correspondence to the major parties in South Australia on February 23, 2022, seeking information and undertakings on issues of concern to members and the communities they serve.
The major parties were informed that the response to the correspondence will be made available to all members so that they can make an informed decision at the ballot box on 19 March 2022.
While responses were received from all, unfortunately, no party took the opportunity to provide any specific detail regarding the issues raised by OTA. SA Divisional Manager followed up urging the parties to strongly consider the points and informed the parties their response would be provided to the membership.
Update 18 March: After asking the parties to strongly consider addressing the points OTA received detailed responses from the following parties.
While we understand their responses are too late to impact your voting decision we hope they help to provide some guidance for future elections.
Issues raised are as follows:
Public health challenges
Given the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare will no doubt be a key consideration for voters this election. The COVID-19 pandemic has created an environment of unprecedented uncertainty and isolation, and the long-term physical and psychological effects of the virus, and the measures to address it, are not yet fully understood.
Occupational therapists provide vital services that reduce hospital admission and readmissions and improve transitional outcomes. In a hospital setting, occupational therapists provide direct clinical care through specialised assessment and intervention, care coordination, transition services including discharge planning, and onward referral to relevant services. Occupational therapists also provide essential rehabilitation and community care services that are vital to reduce strain on hospital resources. Given their dynamic skill set, many occupational therapists have been redeployed during the pandemic to assist across various hospital departments. We urge the Government to maintain funding for occupational therapy expertise in these settings and ensure they are not diluted, redeployed, or converted to generalist roles.
Due to the nature of the virus, the healthcare sector has focused predominantly on the acute impact of COVID-19 on patients’, however, we are becoming increasingly aware of the long-term impacts. COVID-19 is leaving many people with ongoing and debilitating symptoms, including physical and psychological. It is clear occupational therapists are critical in the care and support individuals require to overcome and/or manage these long-lasting impacts. There are significant economic and social implications for not addressing this rapidly growing issue and the additional demand it will place on our healthcare system. We encourage the elected government to invest in Long COVID Allied Health Clinics, such as those that have been established internationally to support chronic pain management, cognitive and mobility difficulties and supporting individuals to return to work/employment. While this will require significant financial investment initially, the long-term economic impact of not addressing this issue is significant.
Occupational Therapy Australia would like to understand how the elected Government will address and reduce the impact of long COVID?
As communities attempt to re-engage following the impacts of the pandemic, lasting social isolation, loneliness, and loss of connections are contributing to an increased risk off mental illness and suicide for South Australians. The increasing demand for mental health services threatens to overwhelm an already inundated mental health workforce. There is clearly a pressing need for more mental health professionals to support these increasing demands within the public health sector.
Regrettably, the role of occupational therapy in the mental health sector is currently undervalued by the South Australian Government. Occupational therapists are a key part of the contemporary mental health system, working across all areas of mental health. There are significant workforce challenges across both public and private mental health sectors in South Australia, with increasing complexity and demand regularly resulting in clinicians ‘burning out’ and leaving the workforce. There is a need for greater investment into workforce numbers, specifically increasing positions within the public acute mental health setting including emergency departments, as well as support to ensure clinicians remain working within this sector. There has and continues to be closures of multiple recovery focused rehabilitation services across the state under the current Government. This is placing additional pressure on an already stretched healthcare system. There is a significant need for investment into Allied Health and Lived Experience specific services, with a focus on recovery rather than the current focus, which is reactive in nature and driven by a medical model. Investing in the Allied Health and Lived Experience Workforce, who provide person centred recovery focussed care, will ultimately reduce the pressure on the Emergency Departments and Emergency Services.
OTA is currently working on a significant project regarding the future of occupational therapy and mental health. OTA is working with the profession to understand and address the issues that most impact occupational therapists working in mental health and where the organisation can undertake work to address issues and improve access for individuals to mental health occupational therapy. We look forward to sharing our learnings and to opportunities to collaborate with the SA Government to support the implementation of our findings. For more information, please go to the OTA website Thinking Ahead: Mental Health Project.
Occupational Therapy Australia would like to know how the elected Government will invest in professional support for mental health occupational therapists, to ensure the ongoing availability of their expertise to those who need it most?
Occupational Therapists in Schools
Occupational therapists are an integral part of learning and support teams for students with disability and special needs in schools. They bring a unique and specialised perspective to maximising student participation and engagement in a learning environment.
In a classroom setting, occupational therapists recommend, implement and monitor services to support a student’s participation at school. They help children to manage stress, regulate their emotions and behaviours, work effectively with others, and manage challenges constructively. These critical skills, support participation across the entire curriculum, as they underpin the key capabilities such as engagement in learning, communication and completion of classroom tasks and routines.
Many children access supports through private services or other schemes such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), however, support for children at school is primarily the responsibility of the Department for Education. The NDIS funds “therapies a family and school have agreed may be delivered during school time but are not for educational purposes” yet in practice, occupational therapists are frequently met with resistance from school principals to access the school environment.
While the Department for Education employs some occupational therapists, the limited FTE means occupational therapists can only provide a capacity building service for educators, rather than working alongside teachers to support children with physical and / or psychosocial needs.
We ask your party to request the Department for Education to work with OTA, to develop guidelines for occupational therapist access to schools that respects both the learning and privacy of students and the rights of disability access for children.
There are significant gaps in the services offered to high school students, with most occupational therapy services focusing on early years of schooling. There is an increasing understanding of the urgency in addressing the social and emotional wellbeing of young people, especially through the critical transition period of high school. This is an extremely vulnerable time for young people and with the growing challenges of navigating social media, impacts of isolation during the pandemic and the increasing rate of youth suicide, it is vital the elected government acts immediately. Occupational therapists are highly skilled at working with youth, supporting the development of healthy life habits, increasing confidence in daily activities, and supporting the development of self and responsibility.
Recent announcements regarding the introduction of services for high school aged students are welcomed, however, they are limited to an assessment and referral service rather than embedding skilled professionals, such as occupational therapists, within the school environment to work alongside students, especially through the critical transition period of graduating from school.
We urge the elected government to respond by funding occupational therapists to work within the school environment, alongside students and teachers.
Housing continues to be identified as a significant issue by occupational therapists, with access to appropriate housing identified as a considerable barrier for individuals with a disability, mental illness and / or age-related illness.
Occupational therapists are highly experienced at assessing home environments and making recommendations for modifications to support safe and sustainable participation in activities of daily living. Occupational therapists working in SA are regularly presented with scenarios where individuals with disabilities either do not have access to housing or are provided with inappropriate housing. In particular, public housing is often built with significant access barriers, and occupational therapists are often required to prescribe necessary modifications which are costly and can lead to significant delays in completion.
OTA urges the Government to invest in more public housing, specifically for those with disability, mental illness and for the ageing population.