Message from the CEO
We've been fielding calls from members this week regarding the new NDIS 2020-21 price guide involving some new interpretations on the loading applied to telehealth consultations for recipients living in remote and very remote areas. While interpretation of the price guide appears to be contentious, the principles underpinning providers' concerns are sound:
- Telehealth services are direct, clinical services, and if NDIS recipients living in remote and very remote locations are receiving those services in situ, then the remote loading should apply. Further, telehealth services are an adjunct to, and not a replacement for, face-to-face services. Telehealth services support full participation in a therapy program for those clients who would otherwise find the additional travel between home and clinic too onerous.
- Services provided to individuals and families living in remote and very remote locations don't just happen. Service development in these communities requires considerable investment in time and resources to build trust and rapport, and to identify eligible recipients who might otherwise fly under the radar for NDIS supports.
- There are complexities relating to the provision of services into remote communities regardless of whether that service is provided in person or by telehealth. These complexities include (but are not limited to) the additional time and equipment required to prepare the client to participate in the session, whether a support worker/allied health assistant is required to facilitate the session between the therapist and the client, and the additional problem-solving required to design a program of support that is relevant to the context for that client.
Without the acknowledgment of the additional costs associated with providing services to remote communities, there is little incentive for providers to focus on developing these services especially if they are likely to only break even, or worse, make a loss from the exercise. In February SARRAH hosted a summit that brought together allied health providers from across rural and regional Australia to discuss the challenges of providing services in rural and remote locations. This is a sector that very little is known about in terms of health workforce planning, yet national health and disability programs are dependent upon to deliver care to vulnerable populations. These providers typically operate at full capacity yet return marginal profit for their efforts, and are therefore vulnerable to even slight changes to funding mechanisms. SARRAH is engaging with the NDIA, Dept Social Services, Dept Health and the Office of the National Rural Health Commissioner to advocate on behalf of NDIS recipients in remote areas who are so challenged in terms of access to services.
Stay well, everyone.
In other news, we welcome today's news that the Office of the Rural Health Commissioner is to continue and be extended to accommodate Deputy Commissioner roles in Indigenous Health, Nursing and Allied Health. While the details are yet to be made known, we believe that the work of the Rural Health Commissioner is critical to ensuring that all Australians have access to appropriate health care regardless of where they live.