Neonatal Occupational Therapy in Australia: A Survey and Recommendations for Developing Guidelines for Clinical Practice

  • Nancy McPharlin Occupational Therapist, Women's and Children's Hospital, North Adelaide, South Australia
  • Hugh Stewart Course Coordinator: Occupational Therapy, Catholic University, Queensland, Australia
  • Dr Deanna Gibbs Director of Clinical Research for Neonates and Children, Co-Director of Children’s Research, Barts Health, NHS Trust, Royal London Hospital, London
  • Ms Holly Bowen-Salter PhD Candidate,International Centre for Allied Health Evidence, University of South Australia, Adelaide
  • Dr. Kobie Boshoff Senior Lecturer, Occupational Therapy Program, International Centre for Allied Health Evidence, University of South Australia , Adelaide, South Australia


Aim and Background: Occupational Therapists form an essential part of the development and care of infants and families in Neonatal Units (NNU) across the world, however, little is documented about their practice in Australia. This article aims to develop a greater understanding of the role of Occupational Therapy in NNU in Australia, compared with international practice guidelines, and recommends the adoption of UK guidelines until Australia specific guidelines emerge. Method: An online questionnaire was developed from a systematic scoping review and piloted by an expert panel. Invitations were sent to thirty Occupational Therapists working in NNUs around Australia. Data analysis included using descriptive statistics and qualitative themes. Results: Twenty two (73%) of NNU Occupational Therapists responded to the survey, representing all levels of NNU. Results describe the current Occupational Therapy role in Australia as encompassing assessment, intervention, teamwork and a variety of ‘other’ activities, all of which required advanced knowledge, skills and paediatric experience, and involved ongoing high-level professional development. Occupational Therapy has a unique role to play in neonatal units. Future development of the role is reliant upon good advocacy and promotion, specialised training opportunities, prospects for networking, support and mentorship for the many Therapists working part-time, and ongoing research. The Australian Occupational Therapy NNU role compares similarly with those cited internationally (UK & US). The development of guidelines for evidence based clinical practice of neonatal Occupational Therapy in Australia was highly sought by clinicians. The adoption of the ‘Occupational Therapy in neonatal services and early intervention: practice guideline’ (RCOT 2017) is proposed until the emergence of specific Australian guidelines.