Is Australian healthcare prepared for the future?

5 min | Medical Careers

Recently, I noticed an increase in discussions around the Australian health workforce. I was chatting with my co-founder, Claire Ponsford about this and she mentioned the Inspire 2012:Reshaping Australia’s Health Workforce conference that she attended in November. So I asked her to guest blog about it and give some insight into the key topics being discussed. I hope you find this an interesting read and welcome Claire to the "Off the Script" blog.

Guest blog: Claire Ponsford, Wavelength International Founder and Director

I recently attended the Inspire 2012: Reshaping Australia’s Health Workforce conference, the first held by the relatively newly formed Health Workforce Australia. The conference brought together some of the world’s most respected leaders in workforce innovation and reform and hundreds of managers and staff from healthcare organisations across Australia to discuss the changing face of healthcare delivery in Australia.

As we listened to experts from around the world discuss their thoughts and experiences, one thing became abundantly clear: it’s not going to be easy to meet the increased demands that will be put on the health workforce in the next 10-20 years.

The recent Health Workforce Australia report highlights the key issues that need to be addressed:

  • workforce shortages
  • mal-distribution of the medical workforce
  • bottlenecks, inefficiency and insufficient capacity in the training system
  • continued reliance on poorly co-ordinated skilled migration to meet essential workforce requirements

These are complex problems to solve and involve the coming together of numerous, currently relatively disparate, bodies. It will require significant structural and cultural change. With 1.3 million people currently employed in health and community care and 9.3% of GDP spent in the health sector in 2009/10, solving this problem is clearly of major social and economic importance.

Two speakers at the conference offered some creative solutions to the issues facing the industry which caught my attention, and I wanted to share these ideas with you.

Mike Woods, Deputy Chair of the Australian Productivity Commission, considered future health workforce reform from an economic perspective, and in particular the supply and demand relationship. He asked the question “what can we do to reduce demand for healthcare services?” and suggested further promotion of wellness and healthy living, the need to address the rise in chronic illness and support for functional independence of patients through the provision of both informal and professional carers in the community.

Dr Brendan Murphy, a physician and CEO of Victoria’s Austin Health Group also provided some food for thought. He pointed out that productivity and cost are major issues and to put it simply we need a cheaper health workforce. He asked the rather contentious question “Why are doctors and nurses tertiary qualified when they often spend a large proportion of their working life performing simple tasks?” Why not challenge and stretch this existing highly qualified workforce and underpin it with a non-degree qualified “assistant” workforce? This allows doctors and nurses with specialist skills to concentrate on the areas in which their expertise lies, therefore increasing workforce efficiency and meeting service demands.

Do you think these ideas could be the way forward? What do you feel is the best way to solve these complex issues? Let me know what you think.

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