OTs secure significant undertakings in lead-up to NT election

Occupational therapists and their clients in the Northern Territory will benefit from important new initiatives, irrespective of which political party wins this Saturday’s election.

Responding to correspondence from Occupational Therapy Australia (OTA), the Labor Party and Territory Alliance expressed a willingness to help extend the reach of occupational therapy across both the government and private sectors. This is particularly welcome in a jurisdiction where health provider markets are stretched very thinly. The Country Liberal Party’s policy also includes initiatives of interest to occupational therapists.

The Minister for Health and Disabilities, the Hon. Natasha Fyles, responded on behalf of the Labor Government and acknowledged the need to support those occupational therapists seeking to establish and sustain private practices in the Territory. Accordingly, a re-elected Labor Government will provide access to the small business champions program to occupational therapists wanting to expand into the National Disability Insurance Scheme or the broader private market.

The Minister also drew attention to a new plan by NT Health to recruit and retain allied health clinicians, including occupational therapists, with a focus on supervision and mentoring arrangements. Ms Fyles expressed a willingness to collaborate with OTA and its members to develop strategies that address workforce shortages.

As part of its NT Housing strategy, a re-elected Labor Government will consider how best to ensure the input of occupational therapists informs timely home modifications. The Minister also noted that several new initiatives in mental health, including better integrated services, will soon open up employment opportunities for occupational therapists.

A representative of the Territory Alliance responded to OTA’s correspondence and made several significant commitments. These include: ongoing support for occupational therapists wishing to access funding support as both professionals and business owners; and recognition of the important role occupational therapists fulfil within the Departments of Education, Territory Families, Justice, and Trade, Business and Innovation.

The Territory Alliance also indicated that a “genuine focus on increasing NDIS funding in the Territory will ensure the growth and sustainability of occupational therapists in the Territory”. Workforce shortages would also be addressed by the Alliance through a Territory Skills Commission.

Significantly, the Alliance was the only party to endorse OTA’s call for an established occupational therapy role within the Department of Housing, describing it as “eminently sensible”.

The Alliance also called for improved resourcing of government and non-government agencies “that are grappling to support Territorians who are in need of mental health services”.

Regrettably, the Country Liberal Party (CLP) did not respond directly to OTA’s correspondence, opting instead to forward its Health Policy Statement. This makes no mention of allied health, or occupational therapy, at all.

The CLP does, however, commit to expanding telehealth, enhanced access to primary and preventative care, targeted treatment and care options to reduce harm from alcohol and other drugs, increased employment opportunities for those with a disability, new mental health facilities, and enhanced investment across all forms of aged care – all initiatives that occupational therapists would welcome.

OTA’s South Australia and Northern Territory Divisional Manager, Miriam Hobson, thanked the parties for their responses.

“This exercise serves to alert our elected representatives to the needs and concerns of vulnerable Territorians and the occupational therapists working to help them achieve their goals. It also assists our members to make an informed decision at the polling booth,” Ms Hobson said.

All correspondence can be viewed at the Northern Territory page of the OTA website: https://otaus.com.au/media-and-advocacy/budgets-elections/2020-nt-election

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