News from the HCA team

Research project: Establishment of a model for professional certification of medical scientists and technicians working in Australia

Establishment of a national model for professional certification of medical scientists and technicians working in Australian pathology laboratories                                                                           

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HCA has been commissioned by the Australian Institute of Medical Scientists (AIMS), in partnership with the Australasian Association of Clinical Biochemists (AACB), to explore the “Establishment of a national model for professional certification of medical scientists and technicians working in Australian pathology laboratories”. This project has been funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health through its Quality Use of Pathology Program (QUPP).

The project has been designed to explore professional certification through an evidence-based, coordinated and independent analysis of possible models and then through facilitated and mediated discussions between the relevant existing pathology service stakeholders bring a consensus on a single selected model. A set of potential options for establishing an objective, transparent and sustainable professional certification model and operating system for all medical scientists and technical staff working in Australian pathology laboratories will be developed for consideration.

History of the project
There is a long history preceding this project. The need for enhanced regulation of scientist competence was first raised through a formal application for registration of medical scientists to the Federal Government in May 2008. Unfortunately, a subsequent application to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA, which covers all Australian jurisdictions) for inclusion of medical scientists in the national accreditation regulatory framework was rejected. A recommendation, though, was made by AHPRA at that time for the medical science profession to develop a system of self-regulation.

This objective has been much discussed in the intervening almost 10 years but, through the lack of a coherent and compelling system design which addresses all stakeholder concerns, the idea has failed to progress. Accordingly, the scientific workforce of pathology laboratories is one of the few remaining professional health workforce groupings that are not subject to either mandatory regulation of standards for entry to the profession or for maintenance of those standards over time. A number of the other similarly placed health professions have initiated self-regulation, in the form of either accreditation or certification of their membership for entry and (to a greater or lesser extent) maintenance of professional competence. An agreed certification model for medical laboratory scientists may provide a useful platform for future engagement in this area (but is not an intended focus for the current project).

What are the project objectives?
The specific objectives of the current project are to:

  1. Provide stakeholders with a strong evidence base for assessing relevant models for professional certification.
  2. Engage the relevant scientific professional organizations in effective collaboration
  3. Craft initial consensus on possible ways forward amongst all pathology laboratory stakeholders Resolve outstanding stakeholder reservations in relation to model acceptance
  4. Provide a clear map to future action through an Implementation Plan.

How will the project be undertaken?
A strong evidence base for action will be constructed through:

  • an examination of the suitability and effectiveness of similar certification arrangements in Australia and overseas (a literature review)
  • initial stakeholder engagement activities (face to face meetings or phone interviews with relevant peak organisations)
  • intensive analysis of overseas and Australian case studies where certification has been attempted (a case study analysis)
  • analysis of pathology laboratory stakeholder expectations for, and requirements of, a certification scheme (with a primary focus on the medical laboratory scientific workforce membership).

This will be explored and analysed through the preparation and distribution of a number of documents and through a range of opportunities for discussion.

Evaluation of the Aboriginal Maternal and Infant Health Service
Surveys completed, case studies and interviews soon to commence

Last year HCA and Murawin commenced the 2016-18 evaluation of the NSW Aboriginal Maternal and Infant Health Service (AMIHS).

At the end of last year the evaluation received approval from the Aboriginal Health & Medical Research Council (AH&MRC) and the NSW Population and Health Services Research ethics committees.

HCA and Murawin are excited to announce that Components 1 and 2 of the evaluation have now been completed – the document review and AMIHS manager survey.

We are very grateful for the hard work contributed by AMIHS managers which resulted in a 100% response rate (47 surveys from 47 sites)! Thanks again to everyone who contributed.

The information from the first two project components has now been analysed using a cluster analysis technique. This analysis has indicated that there are five main ways that AMIHS is being implemented across the sites. An interim report and a set of six recommended case study sites have now been provided to the Ministry of Health.

We hope to be able to announce the case study sites and be out in the field shortly. The purpose of the case studies will be to explore, in more detail, how AMIHS is being delivered, how it has been received by mothers of Aboriginal babies and their families and communities, and how it is sitting within the broader network of health and community services in those communities.

We will also shortly commence interviews with key peak organisations and preparation for Components 5 and 6 – analysis of the Perinatal Data Collection (PDC) and the AMIHS Data Collection (AMDC) and an economic analysis of financial data collected in Component 2.

Contact Debbie Stanford, HCA Staff Consultant, for more information about the aims and methodology of the evaluation, or even send us information relevant to the evaluation.

You can also join the mailing list to receive regular updates about the evaluation.


HCA launches new report on the Public Health Physician Workforce at the 15th World Congress on Public Health

HCA team members, Lee Ridoutt and Carla Cowles, recently completed a labour market analysis of the Public Health Physician workforce in Australia for the Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine. Building on previous HCA studies undertaken for the Faculty, and using novel methods for estimating workforce demand, findings from this recent study will provide important guidance and direction for the future development of the Public Health Physician workforce.

Lee Ridoutt will launch the report today at the 15th World Congress on Public Health being held in Melbourne this week.

The full report can be downloaded here.

News on NDIS Workforce Implications

In 2015 HCA completed a report on the likely workforce implications of the coming NDIS implementation in the community mental health sector under the project management of the NSW Mental Health Coordinating Council (MHCC). We are delighted to let you know that the final project report is now publically available and can be downloaded here.

The report was sent to Mental Health Australia NDIS Capacity Building Project Advisory Group members in early August 2016 and distributed through the MHA CEO’s weekly e-news shortly after.

HCA takes this opportunity to thank MHCC, in particular Tina Smith, and a number of community mental health organisation peak bodies in each state and territory and other organisations (in particular the National Disability Service) for many contributions to the project. It was a big and complex piece of work that will be of benefit across a range of NDIS and other MH reform activity over the next few years.

Tina Smith will be presenting on the report at the TheMHS Conference on Thursday 25th at 1:30 PM on the project. You can learn more about the conference by clicking this link and we will no doubt see proceedings notes in due course.

HCA and Murawin Consulting Commence Evaluation of the NSW Aboriginal Maternity and Infant Health Services Program

The HCA team is delighted to announce that, in conjunction with our new partner, Murawin Consulting (led by Carol Vale), we have recently commenced a two year evaluation process to investigate the reach, impact and cost of the NSW Aboriginal Maternal and Infant Health Services (AMIHS) Program since it was established over 15 years ago. The evaluation will focus on the program’s impact on Aboriginal babies and their mothers and seek to identify the critical success factors in the various models that have been implemented over time across the State. More information on the AMIHS program can be found here.

As would be expected with a two year evaluation project timeframe, the evaluation process planned is very comprehensive consisting of both quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis and use of both secondary and primary data sources. The evaluation effort will cover both AMIHS Program implementation and outcomes. Much of the evaluation method is standard, but some use of some quite interesting and novel methods such as social network analysis and the Field Implementation Rating Scale are included in the evaluation effort.

On the quantitative data analysis side we will be conducting extensive analysis of relevant existing data sources (epidemiological and service-level data such as the Perinatal Data Collection and the Aboriginal Maternity Data Collection) as well as collecting and analyzing quantified data on the Program implementation.

Utilizing Murawin’s great capacity for consultation with Aboriginal communities, qualitative data will be collected from service providers, consumers of the AMIHS services, and other stakeholders (such as Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services). The qualitative data will add texture and insight to the findings from the quantitative data.

As comprehensive a picture as possible of the costs associated with the program will be collated and analysed and, within the limits of the data available to the project, value for money judgements made within the context of alternative options of the broader health system.

We are currently in the process of bedding down our plan for the implementation of the evaluation. A workshop was held in August 2016 with key stakeholders to introduce the project and seek feedback on our proposed consultation tools. A separate workshop was held with a cultural reference group (CRG) which will work with the project team throughout the two year project. Over the next 6 months, as ethics approval is sought and obtained and the Evaluation Framework is completed and able to be published, a number of documents will be made available.

Sign up to our mailing list to receive regular updates about the evaluation.


New strategic partnership with Murawin

HCA has recently entered what we hope is a long term and strategic relationship Carol Valewith an Indigenous owned and operated research company called Murawin, the principal of which is Carol Vale. More information on Carol Vale can be found under the Aboriginal Health tab on our Associates page.

Murawin is a specialist intercultural consultation and facilitation business that collaborates with its clients to develop culturally appropriate responses and innovative solutions. Murawin core staff and associates have a passion for strengthening cultural competencies and professional capabilities. Its core values of inclusiveness, cultural safety and respect underpin every aspect of its work. Murawin’s team consists of a talented group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous professionals who bring an extensive range of experiences in policy development, project management, evaluation, social research and stakeholder engagement across a wide range of policy and program areas. Navigating the complexity of Indigenous communities is the team’s specialty. Murawin team members understand that engaging successfully with Indigenous communities requires an appreciation of cultural competencies and social dynamics of communities. It is a deliberate and negotiated process, not just based on providing information.

Presentation at the joint Ottawa and ANZAHPE Conference

HCA Staff Consultant, Carla Cowles, recently presented a poster at the joint Ottawa and Australasian and New Zealand Association for Health Professional Educators (ANZAHPE) Conference held in Perth in March this year.

The presentation was related to HCA’s current study for the Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine (AFPHM) which is looking at the supply and demand for Public Health Physicians in Australia to conduct a labour market analysis and provide estimates for the profession for up to 2025.


The focus of HCA’s presentation was on the method being employed to obtain estimates of the demand for Public Health Physicians. Traditional methods of workforce planning estimate demand through ‘service utilisation’. However, based on previous studies conducted by HCA, this method is not a useful approach for Public Health Medicine due to the highly varied nature of the work.

Therefore in the current study HCA will be looking at estimating demand for the workforce by adopting an evidence-based ‘Best-practice’ approach with a focus on ‘areas or practice’ of Public Health Medicine understood through a ‘role delineation’ lens.

Consultations with workforce are currently underway, including a survey of AFPHM Fellows to obtain an accurate estimate of current supply.


The outcomes from the project will assist with:

  • improved planning and training of the workforce
  • advocating for a ‘best practice’ way of deploying and developing the Public Health Physicians workforce at a government and policy level
  • obtaining of a valid method for estimating demand scenarios for the workforce

For more information about this project please contact Carla Cowles or Lee Ridoutt.

HCA a part of Irish health system reform

As the pace of public hospital funding reform in Australia, towards the more transparent model of activity based funding, seemingly is becoming less focused and certainly having a reduced profile, the Irish Government is pushing determinedly ahead to introduce a funding model based on activity (‘Money Follows the Patient’) to 38 of its largest hospitals. The Government’s intentions are best summarised in their document Activity-Based Funding Programme: Implementation Plan 2015 – 2017. The Plan can be downloaded here.


HCA’s Principal, Lee Ridoutt, leading a key workshop with Irish coders

In the last two years a transition has been occurring, and of course some hospitals are better prepared than others to adapt to the new funding approach. As a whole, the change is most at risk from poor quality of data on activity, especially episodes of care not being coded accurately and in a way which appropriately reflects their complexity, and therefore cost.
HCA has been supporting one of its key consultancy partners, Pavilion Health, who has a large contract with the Irish Healthcare Pricing Office (HPO), to improve the data quality. The project, commenced in June 2015 and due to be completed in May 2016, has several elements aimed at identifying the magnitude and nature of any data quality deficiencies, including a traditional auditing approach of the coding of a sample of episodes of care from a sample of hospitals, and broader statistical analysis of the entire 2014 data set. HCA’s contribution is to study the way coding services are managed in a selection of Irish hospitals (benchmarked against a theoretical ‘best practice’) and to identify interventions at both a hospital and systems level to improve management. As well, HCA is working with Professor Beth Reid to evaluate the HPO capacity to develop and support competent clinical coders and advise on the best workforce development approaches and required infrastructure.

As the project nears completion, some very valuable advice is being formulated to improve HPO’s workforce development infrastructure. In the area of coding services management, important research has ben completed in a space that is poorly covered in the academic literature, and it is hoped HCA’s research work, with Pavilion Health and HPO, will be converted post project into published articles.

Information about the project and especially HCA’s contribution is best obtained from HCA’s most involved staff members Lee Ridoutt and Victoria Hirst.

HCA’s most senior consultant undertaking a PhD

HCA’s Victoria Hirst, the longest serving member of the core staff group (apart from the Principal), has been accepted into a PhD program in 2015 at the University of Newcastle.

While this might limit to some extent in the short term the time Victoria can continue to contribute to HCA projects, the long term benefits to the company are appreciable. Apart from accelerating Victoria’s knowledge base and competence in an area of HCA work where she has begun to specialise, mental health services workforce, it will bring more academic contacts to HCA, adding to the already long list of HCA’s academic relationships to institutions and individual associates.

Victoria’s PhD research aims to investigate the benefits and possibility of including carers of people with mental health issues within the mental health workforce in a more structured way. Thus, some embryonic thinking within HCA about the inefficient way in which carer resources are currently utilised in mental health (and too aged care and disability) and how this could be addressed by adopting a human resources management approach will be explored. Of course, as with all PhD endeavours in the early days, Victoria’s research direction is ever evolving. We will keep you up to date with her research output later in the year, but for those with a keen interest in the area and perhaps already researching this space, don’t hesitate to contact Victoria about her studies.

New associate – Judy Harwood

HCA is pleased to welcome Judy Harwood as an associate. Judy brings a welcome expertise in disability to boost HCA’s capacity to understand and respond to workforce issues arising from NDIS implementation. This will supplement HCA’s own growing expertise from an NDIS workforce project with MHCC.

Judy has seventeen years of senior experience with government in program administration, policy, reform, and business strategies. As well as extensive experience in disability program and sector reform. She has also managed the Home and Community Care Program for NSW.

For more information about Judy’s experience and qualifications please go to our Associates page.

HCA mental health workforce report published

In late 2014 HCA was contracted to provide advice to the National Mental Health Commission as part of their development of a National Review of Mental Health Programmes and Services, a seminal report on the future of mental health services for the Federal Minster of Health. The advice was primarily in regard to the workforce implications of the visionary new form the Commission wanted to take mental health services. HCA’s advice took the form of numerous meetings with the Commission’s officers and the CEO David Butt, but more particularly was provided in a just under 100 page report. The HCA report, along with other reports commissioned by NMHC were published on the 16th April, 2015, and can be downloaded here.

If you want to see also the Commission’s report to Government, it can be found here.

HCA’s growing specialisation: Mental Health Workforce

Over the last 3-4 years HCA has been incrementally accumulating a high level of expertise in mental healh workforce.

HCA is currently applying it’s mental health workforce expertise in a number of new projects including:

• The Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health (CRRMH) to undertook an assessment of basic mental health education required by staff employed by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in rural and remote NSW service providers.

• Scoping the Australian community managed mental health sector’s workforce development needs in relation to the delivery of psychosocial disability support/services with the new NDIS funding framework, HCA will make recommendations about next steps and priorities to address these in the context of the national implementation of the NDIS.

• Undertaking an external evaluation of the Rural Adversity and Mental Health Program’s (RAMHP), in particular the program’s linkages and connections to mental health and community stakeholders. This process includes interviewing and surveying several stakeholder groups such as community mental health services, rural support/resilience workers, and the managers of public sector mental health services in rural Local Health Districts (LHDs).

• Providing the National Mental Health Commission (NMHC) expert advice on the workforce requirements to support the commission’s vision and service plans for the future, presented to the Federal Minister for Health in the National Review of Mental Health Programmes and Services. HCA’s report has just been published and can be downloaded here.

• In conjunction with the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health (CRRMH), HCA completed a literature review of service models for mental health services for the Mid North Coast (MNC) Local Health District, identifying possible best practice service structures, resource distribution and new and innovative ways of service governance that support integrated service behaviours.

New core staff member

HCA welcomes a new member into its core staff team Debbie Stanford. Debbie has been an associate with HCA for over a year, but will now take on a more structured role in the core team, taking specific client relationship responsibility for all Canberra based clients and will play a role, most often project management, in all of HCA’s Federal Government consultancy assignments. Given that HCA has recently been contracted as a member of the Families and Children Expert Panel (click here for information on the panel) in addition to its membership in other Commonwealth expert panels, Debbie’s expertise will be a great asset.

Debbie has worked in Commonwealth Government agencies for many years in particular the Department of Health, at a senior level. Apart from understanding the content intricacies of many portfolios of health policy and service activity, she has a particularly keen insight more broadly into how government agencies actually work, and as a consultant what approaches and mechanisms you need to adopt to be successful. For more on Debbie’s background go to Our People page.