Therapy and equipment needs of people with Cerebral Palsy and like disabilities in Australia

Therapy and equipment needs of people with Cerebral Palsy and like disabilities in Australia

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) recently released a valuable research report entitled Therapy and equipment needs of people with Cerebral Palsy (PDF 941 KB) and like disabilities in Australia. 

The joint project was the initiative of AIHW and Cerebral Palsy Australia.

The comprehensive research, completed over several years, represents a valuable national collaboration that includes health professionals, government departments, disability service providers, and people with disabilities.

Member organisations helped to organise the focus groups which consisted of people aged between 0-18 years, people over the age of 18 years using employment services, and people with Cerebral Palsy (CP) and CP-like disabilities of all ages who receive irregular services such as consultation, training and provision of equipment.

The key objectives of the report were to:

  • Review and summarise the key findings of national and international literature about the definitions, costs and benefits of therapy, and whether therapy ‘makes a difference’
  • Identify the nature and quantify the extent of met, partially met and unmet need for therapies and equipment among people of different ages
  • Estimate the effects of the provision of therapy and equipment in terms of improved or maintained individual functioning and participating, at different ages, and in terms of reduced social costs of disability

This type of research is vital and Cerebral Palsy Australia has been concerned by the level of unmet needs and/or lengthy delays in individuals and families getting assistance that can, quite literally, change their daily lives.

In Cerebral Palsy Australia's experience, we believe the need for therapy and equipment, and a qualified understanding of the benefits for people with CP and CP-like disabilities is undeniable. 

Too Little Too Late

Scope Victoria launched Too Little Too Late, a study examining wait times and cost burdens for people with disabilities seeking equipment funding in Victoria. The collaborative study found that 91% of applicants through the State Government’s Victorian Aids and Equipment Program (VAEP) are forced to self-fund or pay part of the equipment cost. 

On average, these payments – which might be met by private or Government funding – fell between $3000-$7000 and, regularly, seven or eight months passed between assessment and equipment receipt, with extra time for training or any special modifications.

Not surprisingly, the AIHW report noted: “the potential for therapy and equipment provision to reduce the social cost of disability was widely supported by people with CP and CP-like disabilities and therapists in the field”.

Equipment waiting lists have also long been an area of significant concern to Scope, as therapists work doggedly for funding and equipment for people who are often waiting for long periods and in desperate need for equipment that might increase mobility, enhance community participation, assist with improved muscle control, improve individual independence, or simply make daily life easier.

Scope’s own research has shown an ongoing pressing need in Victoria and now the AIHW report illustrates similar needs on a national front. To underscore the seriousness of unmet need, the report also shows that “analysis of equipment waiting lists data from three states produced three estimates of the annual national cost of meeting unmet need for equipment ... $3.5 million, $4.3 million and $4.4 million”.

The conclusions of the report may be summarised as follows:

  • Evidence points to therapy and equipment being essential – in fact, both are crucial to support independence, facilitate participation and contribute to overall wellbeing
  • Therapists and project participants agree there are significant levels of unmet need for therapy 
  • Estimates of the annual cost of meeting unmet need for therapy ranges from $22.3 million to $54.8 million – this can be interpreted as the additional government funding needed by CSTDA (Commonwealth, State & Territory Disability Agreement) agencies to provide therapy services
  • It is widely recognised that lack of timely access to appropriate therapy and equipment can exacerbate problems and result in greater future need for services – therefore, if therapy and equipment needs were fully met in a timely manner, this may have the effect of lowering the overall level of need in the future.

The report conservatively estimates the cost of meeting unmet equipment needs to range from $3.5 million to $4.4 million – these figures should be considered only as broad indicators, as it is not possible to produce a firm annual estimate, although it is known that many people with CP require costly specialised equipment to optimise their mobility independence, communication and self care, as well as maximising their opportunities to participate in community life. 

Scope has entered into discussions with government in Victoria about the lack of effective funding for therapy and equipment. The government has committed through its latest funding agreements to review the pricing structure of therapy, recognising that it is over 10 years since a detailed review has occurred.

It is critical that if people with disabilities are to realise their full potential, that both therapy and equipment supports are considered a significant priority by government.