Major parties endorse role of occupational therapy ahead of Saturday’s WA poll
The Western Australian Division of Occupational Therapy Australia (OTA) has welcomed undertakings from the major parties contesting the March 13 state election.
Correspondence detailing issues of concern to occupational therapists was sent on 4 February to the Australian Labor Party, the Liberal Party, the West Australian Greens, One Nation, The National Party, and the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party. As of this morning, the Labor Party, the Liberals and the Greens had responded.
OTA’s WA Divisional Manager, Erin Clinch, said the purpose in writing to the parties was to raise awareness of the great work done by occupational therapists, and to draw attention to their concerns and those of their clients.
“The exercise also enables our members to make an informed decision at the ballot box,” Ms Clinch said. “While it is great that three major parties responded to our correspondence, it is regrettable that three other parties have opted not to engage with our membership on important issues.”
Responding on behalf of the Labor Government, the Premier Mark McGowan indicated a willingness to work with OTA into the future.
In response to a call for a greater role for occupational therapists in WA schools, Mr McGowan said Labor “recognises the importance of access to quality for students with disabilities”.
Despite policies being in place to facilitate access to schools, occupational therapists who are NDIS providers frequently encounter barriers to accessing school premises, and had done so even before the COVID-19 pandemic. OTA welcomes Labor’s commitment to future consultation with parents, disability advocacy peaks and therapy provider peaks around the Draft Guidelines for parent-initiated therapy provision on school sites.
OTA notes with disappointment, however, that Mr McGowan did not explicitly acknowledge occupational therapists in the Labor Party’s plans to provide funding for more health workers, nor did he recognise the key role of occupational therapy in the provision of mental health services.
While Mr McGowan stated West Australian Labor has committed to addressing critical gaps in the mental health system through a $361.6 million dollar investment over four years, including a $64 million commitment to increase psychological support for WA students, no specific mention was made of occupational therapy.
Ms Clinch said the lack of an explicit reference to occupational therapy was disappointing given the current public health challenges and the crucial role of occupational therapy in preventing hospital admissions and readmissions.
OTA welcomed the Labor Party’s commitment to continued dialogue with the Western Australian Department of Transport to ensure the ongoing sustainability and continued improvement of Western Australia’s Vehicle Assessment and modification services.
Responding on behalf of the Liberal Party, the Shadow Minster for Mental Health, Liza Harvey recognised the “important role of mental health occupational therapists in providing support for children, indigenous communities and the broader community”. Acknowledgement of the need for additional resources to enable occupational therapists to address wide-ranging mental health issues was also forthcoming. If elected to government, the Liberals have committed to working with OTA to address the issue of Access Guidelines for Schools, as well as on more consistent national vehicle modifications and assessment.
In its response, the Greens recognised the “important, and often undervalued, role played by allied health professionals, including occupational therapists” and stated that occupational therapists are “important for wellbeing and quality of life, as well as reducing long term health costs”. OTA welcomes the invitation to meet with the Greens to discuss the means by which West Australians can have enhanced access to the mental health therapies, services and supports they need.
The Greens’ spokesperson for health and disability, Alison Xamon, acknowledged the significant barriers, including a lack of funding, that prevent children at educational risk accessing the supports they need to succeed at school.
The Greens are also to be commended for explicitly recognising the growing shortage of occupational therapists, a problem that needs to be addressed by whichever party forms government on Saturday.
Ms Clinch thanked the West Australian Labor Party, the Liberal Party and the Greens for their responses.
All correspondence can be viewed on the OTA website: https://otaus.com.au/media-and-advocacy/budgets-elections/2021-western-australian-election
Michael Barrett | Government, Media and Public Relations
0403 795 505
About Occupational Therapy Australia
Occupational Therapy Australia is the national professional association representing occupational therapy in Australia. We offer opportunities for our members to enhance best practice through professional development, support, and access to profession-specific information.