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Elderly Australians are suffering due to restrictions on physio treatment

Elderly Australians are suffering due to restricti
Photo: Elderly Australians are suffering due to restrictions on physio treatment
As a practising physiotherapist, Melbourne based Emily Riglar is all too aware of the potential consequences of the government’s restrictions on physiotherapy access for Victorians.

But for Ms Riglar, it’s more than just professional knowledge – it’s personal, having watched the devastating impact these restrictions have had on her 94-year-old grandmother.

Ms Riglar says reduced access to physiotherapy treatment is having a dramatic short and long term health and wellbeing of her much loved Nana. 

“Due to the restrictions, my 94-year-old Nana has had her access to home based physio removed,” says Ms Riglar.

“She had a stroke last year and was already deconditioned due to ongoing issues with back pain and foot pain.”

Living alone and prohibited from having home visits from her physio and physio assistant, she has lost the confidence to go outside to enjoy walks alone.
“Three months ago, her walking was the best it had been in over a year.

“Now she has noticed she is getting more tired, and she can’t walk as far, and doesn’t feel as confident.

“From what she tells me it sounds like she is deconditioning.”

Ms Riglar’s grandmother struggles with using the phone so telehealth isn’t a viable option for her.

“She is increasingly at risk of not being able to regain her condition, as the weaker she gets, the harder it will be once she has access to her physio again.

“I fear that the outcome of this gap in treatment is that she prematurely reaches the point that she can no longer live independently and has to move into a nursing home, and at worst that she falls and ends up in hospital.

“If this happens it would likely be the beginning of further deterioration due to her level of deconditioning.”

According to the APA, the restrictions on access to physiotherapy care in Victoria – limiting face to face appointments to those deemed essential -  is short sighted and negligent, impacting thousands of people.

There is almost no relief to those people who rely on physiotherapy for their daily health and wellbeing says Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA), Victorian Branch President, Tom Hindhaugh.

“The State Government’s reluctance to see the real world impact of their restrictions is having a tangible and devastating human cost,” says Mr Hindhaugh.

“On a daily basis we are hearing about the detrimental impact of this policy and the huge backlogs of patients who have not met the criteria to be seen, but whose ongoing lack of access to physio is impacting their wellbeing.”

Mr Hindaugh says many patients have had chronic conditions left unmanaged for many weeks or months.

“It is irresponsible to keep limiting access.

“We are likely to see the serious consequences down the track so we implore the State Government to take the long term health consequences into serious consideration and allow full access to face to face physiotherapy care in Victoria.”

“Anything less risks the irreversible deterioration in the health and wellbeing of our community.”

Mr Hindhaugh believes the health and wellbeing of those impacted will continue to decline, if the current decision isn’t reversed.

“As things stand, neither patients nor their health provider has clarity about how to ensure they are getting the care they need. What we are asking is that physiotherapists be respected as the highly trained professionals they are, and for restrictions on access to physiotherapy care to be eased.

“People like Emily’s grandmother, represent the toll Victorians are paying while these restrictions are in place. There is no reason why people are restricted in getting treatment from their physiotherapist that keeps them active, healthy, mobile and independent.”

Physiotherapists are Ahpra-registered, trained in infection control and prioritise the health of their patients, Mr Hindaugh says.

During the 18 months of this pandemic, physiotherapy in private practice has been proven to be overwhelmingly safe and valuable.

“Data shows that physiotherapy in private practice is safe during COVID-19 outbreaks.”

“As health professionals, who are instrumental in keeping people healthy and well, pain free and mobile during this difficult time, physiotherapists are dismayed at this decision. In regional Victoria, you can get your haircut but you still can’t see your physio.

“It concerns and bewilders us that allied health can be deemed to represent a higher risk and lesser value than beauty and grooming services.”


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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications ( and a children's author.