Prescribing rights for physiotherapists – by Tim Barnwell APA Sports Physiotherapist

My Health Career is pleased to publish a guest article by Tim Barnwell, an APA Sports Physiotherapist who has over 12 years experience. He is currently the Western Australian Representative on the Australian Physiotherapy Association’s National Advisory Council (NAC). The NAC meets twice a year to discuss issues related to the Physiotherapy profession across Australia.

“Recently the National Advisory Council (NAC) of the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) met to discuss physiotherapists gaining the right to prescribe medications for their patients. At present physiotherapists are not legally allowed to prescribe medications. There are however many instances where the ability of a physiotherapist to prescribe medications may be of benefit to their patients and the wider Australian healthcare system. Examples of this include a patient who presents with back pain and would benefit from pain killers or anti-inflammatories, or a patient with a respiratory disease who may benefit from medications to assist their breathing. In both these examples the patient may have presented to their physiotherapist and be in immediate need of a prescription or otherwise have difficulty seeing their general practitioner. The ability of physiotherapists to prescribe would mean that the patient did not need to visit two different health practitioners. This would be particularly advantageous to those people who live in rural and regional Australia where access to different aspects of the healthcare system is limited.

The reason for this discussion was the instigation by Health Workforce Australia (HWA) of a project examining Health Professionals Prescribing Pathways (HPPP). In the report released late last year, HWA outlined the principles of health professional prescribing and did not discriminate between those professions who already prescribe and those that could with the right level of training and education. Above all the project reinforced the need for patient safety and practitioner responsibility to ensure competency and best practice. The project outlined a pathway that would ensure these principles. The APA completely supported this premise of ensuring practitioner competency and ongoing evaluation of competency to ensure best practice amongst those prescribing medications.

It is important to point out that the APA does not want physiotherapists to take over the role of GP’s within the healthcare system. Instead it wants to facilitate a system that allows ease of access and timely care. The APA made a clear decision that the appropriate engagement with stakeholders in this area was vital for the overall success of prescribing rights for physiotherapists. A safer, more timely and cost effective patient journey is the driving reason that the APA is advocating for physiotherapy prescribing.

The APA believes that the best outcome for patients would be a system that allows all suitably qualified physiotherapists the opportunity to prescribe. Therefore the APA strongly supports appropriate education and training along with ongoing CPD requirements to ensure safe and effective practice. The APA reviewed both autonomous and supervised models of prescribing and both were deemed to have individual advantages. Above all it is important to be aware that the APA supports prescribing rights for physiotherapists within their scope of practice.

Around the world physiotherapists prescribing medications is already underway. Last year physiotherapists in the United Kingdom gained independent prescribing rights. Prior to this some physiotherapists in the UK had already gained the right to prescribing under supervisions. At this stage there are 8 physiotherapists in the UK who are able to independently prescribe, with around 200 who are credentialed to prescribe under supervision arrangements. As yet there is no specific data on whether there have been any adverse events with this change to medication prescribing. It is important to recognise that there are some key differences between the UK healthcare system and the Australian healthcare system. Some of these differences have certainly led to physiotherapists receiving prescribing rights to further assist patient care within the system. There has however been a beneficial change for patients and the physiotherapy profession within the UK and one that Australia should certainly keep in mind as we progress towards further prescribing rights for healthcare professionals.”

For more information on the Australian Physiotherapy Association please visit

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