From dietitians to dental health professionals, podiatrists to psychologists, occupational therapists to mental health workers and more, allied health services are key to improving the health and wellbeing of people with disabilities and their capacity to participate in everyday life.
But an increase in demand for allied health services married with a reduction of qualified workers is forcing many NDIS participants to join long waiting lists to access services – with detrimental consequences.
“An NDIS participant is often reliant on an allied health professional to complete an assessment of the types of supports they need to complete and participate in their chosen daily activities – this information will be used to inform their next NDIS plan,” says Mandy De Cesare, national allied health services manager for HenderCare. “If those assessments and interventions are delayed, it affects the participants hugely because it means they have to constantly wait for their funding to come through.”
HenderCare opened its allied health services department in South Australia almost two years ago and hasn’t stopped since. “Right from the get-go there was demand for the services we were offering,” De Cesare says. “We have built from three therapists initially – one speech, one OT, one physio – and now have 13 staff across speech pathology, OT, physiotherapy and psychology. But, regardless of our growing staff, we still have some wait times for those services.”
Along with other disability service providers, HenderCare is actively seeking to expand its allied health workforce. “We’re competing with all the other service providers who I know have demand that outstrips the services they can supply,” De Cesare says. “We need to keep working with the NDIS to expand and build some depth into the workforce so people aren’t having to wait for our services.”
Having worked in allied health for 30 years, De Cesare relishes the diversity on offer. “It’s so rewarding because not one day is like the other: every person brings different skills, abilities and challenges,” she says. “You’re working with people who are striving to achieve things every day, just like everybody else.”
Job security is another important factor, particularly given the economic uncertainty of the past year. “You can guarantee allied health professionals working in the disability sector will not be without a job, because we just can’t get enough professionals to meet demand,” De Cesare says.
“COVID affected so many industries but allied health professionals in the disability sector kept working all the way through. If people are considering a career change, allied health services in the disability sector is the way to go.”
– Lynn Cameron