Is Australian healthcare prepared for the future?

4 minutes read time Categories: Regulatory & Migration 17/12/2012

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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  • Julia Buckley 18/12/2012 10:29am (6 years ago)

    I think Mike Woods raises a very good point in promoting wellness and healthy living. As even decreasing consultation time spent on common everyday illnesses caused by poor diet and lifestyle will help to alleviate the pressure of workforce shortages. We should be investing in campaigns and strategies to encourage healthier lifestyles so that we aren’t visiting the doctor for every cough and sniffle, and taking prescription drugs that we may otherwise not need of we took better care of our immune systems.
    Also initiatives such as tele-health where patients get access to web based care will help so I am excited to see this service being rolled out.

  • Lexy Mullins 19/12/2012 10:01am (6 years ago)

    Watching the hoops my high school friend had to jump through to be admitted into Medicine in Australia was very disheartening. She was one of thousands competing for very few places and ended up moving from Sydney (after completing her Medical Science degree at Usyd) to Geelong just to fulfil her dream. All applicants being very intelligent and motivated young people who are eager to become doctors but are being stopped from doing so. It obviously is very expensive to educate and train young doctors but solutions need to be found to combat this! The extremely limited number of University places is only going to lead to further dependence on overseas doctors as Australia's population grows and ages.

  • Over 200 healthcare employers have had their say! | Off the Script - Medical Recruitment Blog 28/04/2013 6:06pm (6 years ago)

    [...] Director and Founder, Claire Ponsford’s recent guest blog highlighted some of the challenges the Australian healthcare system will face as it approaches [...]

  • Sam Chadderton 16/09/2013 12:35pm (6 years ago)

    Dr Brendan Murphy offers a good solution for the needs to get more bang for our buck regarding money spent on healthcare. A potential problem I see with the further specialisation of the healthcare field is that this model of medicine looks at humans as though they are a machine, such as a car. Since humans are not machines, and are more than the organs which make them up, and just the diseases which festers in them, and instead a holistic entity which needs holistic care. Since many diseases affect multiple anatomical regions, and, patients often present with co-morbidities in need simultaneously care/management; the need for more generalist doctors is more in need than ever. An increase in generalist care may actually see patients heel quicker and take less trips to the doctor. Health prevention and promotion must be the best way to reduce the the load of people needing healthcare.

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