Academic journal article Australian Health Review

Workforce Development: Planning What You Need Starts with Knowing What You Have

Academic journal article Australian Health Review

Workforce Development: Planning What You Need Starts with Knowing What You Have

Article excerpt


Health workforce planning and research occurs at both national and state/territory levels, but identifying current workforce availability and future workforce need is more problematic at a regional level. We report on the practical approach to workforce development taken by North Coast Area Health Service (NCAHS) in NSW, Australia.

The NCAHS plan considers the impact of workforce ageing, changes in casemix and volume predicted by population demographics, staff level guidelines associated with service enhancements, and changes in service delivery models driven by the need for economic efficiencies, greater investment in disease prevention and medical technological advancements. Finally, the paper addresses how workforce development plans can assist sustainable service delivery through targeted strategies in recruitment, retention and retraining.

Aust Health Rev 2007: 31 Suppl 1: S98-S105

THE PROVISION OF HEALTH SERVICES is contingent on the availability of appropriately skilled workforce, and the seven national principles of developing health workforce policy (Box 1) rely on evidence-based and population-focussed methodology.

Workforce planning and research is well supported by government at both the national and state/territory level, but at a regional level the identification of available and projected workforce can be problematic given overall workforce shortages, the diversity of defined clinical roles, and the lack of readily accessible local data.2

Labour costs are by far the largest single item of expenditure by NSW Health,3 and workforce must be used efficiently and cost-effectively. The increasingly competitive market for labour forces organisations to focus more attention on the needs of their staff and monitoring of staff turnover, reductions in workplace injuries and sick leave rates, incentives and career restructuring, participation in education and training throughout life and better access to training in rural and regional NSW.4

The demand and need for health services, and hence workforce, are not evenly distributed across populations or regions, but are driven by the interplay of changing population demographics and consumer expectations in the context of established patterns of service delivery. 'Areas with rapid population growth face increasingly complex demands3 on their ability to meet changing service volumes and casemix, further influenced by new technologies and models of care, and the need for economic efficiencies and greater investment in disease prevention.

Covering an area of 35 700 square kilometres in north-east NSW and a population of 469 030, the North Coast Area Health Service (NCAHS) faces particular challenges with the fastest growing population of any NSW area health service (AHS). It also has the highest proportion of people aged 65 years and over, and this cohort has the highest projected growth rate; increasing from 18% (in 2001) to 21% of the total NCAHS population in 2011 compared with the state average of 13% to 15% of the total population over the same period.5

Need for health workforce

The supply of workforce has not kept pace with this growth in demand, with shortages of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals particularly evident at sites more distant from the coast. The workforce is also ageing, and it is projected that between 2006 and 2016 about' 30% of current NCAHS employees are likely to retire. Over the same period, demand for hospital services is projected to rise by about 25%. This potential for severe workforce shortages led to the establishment of the NCAHS Workforce Development Taskforce in 2004; to provide a strategy, vision and action plan for the region.

The key stages in the plan's development are outlined in Box 2.

Data were collected and analysed giving consideration to planning questions:

* How can the Area Health Service prepare for the possible loss of about 30% of the workforce in the next 10 years? …

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