Open Access Research

How evidence-based workforce planning in Australia is informing policy development in the retention and distribution of the health workforce

Ian F Crettenden, Maureen V McCarty, Bethany J Fenech*, Troy Heywood, Michelle C Taitz and Sam Tudman

Author Affiliations

Health Workforce Australia, 400 King William Street, Adelaide, Australia

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Human Resources for Health 2014, 12:7  doi:10.1186/1478-4491-12-7

Published: 3 February 2014

Abstract

Background

Australia’s health workforce is facing significant challenges now and into the future. Health Workforce Australia (HWA) was established by the Council of Australian Governments as the national agency to progress health workforce reform to address the challenges of providing a skilled, innovative and flexible health workforce in Australia. HWA developed Australia’s first major, long-term national workforce projections for doctors, nurses and midwives over a planning horizon to 2025 (called Health Workforce 2025; HW 2025), which provided a national platform for developing policies to help ensure Australia’s health workforce meets the community’s needs.

Methods

A review of existing workforce planning methodologies, in concert with the project brief and an examination of data availability, identified that the best fit-for-purpose workforce planning methodology was the stock and flow model for estimating workforce supply and the utilisation method for estimating workforce demand. Scenario modelling was conducted to explore the implications of possible alternative futures, and to demonstrate the sensitivity of the model to various input parameters. Extensive consultation was conducted to test the methodology, data and assumptions used, and also influenced the scenarios selected for modelling. Additionally, a number of other key principles were adopted in developing HW 2025 to ensure the workforce projections were robust and able to be applied nationally.

Results

The findings from HW 2025 highlighted that a ‘business as usual’ approach to Australia’s health workforce is not sustainable over the next 10 years, with a need for co-ordinated, long-term reforms by government, professions and the higher education and training sector for a sustainable and affordable health workforce. The main policy levers identified to achieve change were innovation and reform, immigration, training capacity and efficiency and workforce distribution.

Conclusion

While HW 2025 has provided a national platform for health workforce policy development, it is not a one-off project. It is an ongoing process where HWA will continue to develop and improve health workforce projections incorporating data and methodology improvements to support incremental health workforce changes.

Keywords:
Workforce planning; Workforce projections