Population Health Workforce

HCA has a long history of innovative research work in this most interesting of health workforces. It is a most interesting workforce because it is largely unregulated, has quite a different set of demand drivers, and has very high levels of substitution between different types of labour. From a workforce planning perspective, there are many similarities between population health and HCA’s other areas of emerging workforce expertise in mental health and Aboriginal health, and these workforces offer greater scope to explore new ways of thinking than the more traditional and highly regulated health workforces (like clinical medicine and nursing).

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One of HCA’s earliest projects in 2003 turned out to be a landmark and widely cited paper in the population health workforce space. The erstwhile National Public Health Partnership (NPHP), a standing committee reporting to the Australian Health Ministers, had virtually given up trying to plan the population health workforce and contracted HCA to take one last look at the method possibilities. HCA provided NPHP with a new and feasible conceptual direction, primarily by focusing on the demand for services and by offering a new unit of analysis for workforce other than traditional workforce categories ― population health competencies. This report was followed by a trial of the method in a major Sydney health region. You can obtain that report here.

From this initial piece of work HCA began exploring the different workforce components within the broader population health services delivery area. This included workers from the VET area of training through to the medical practitioner workforce within population health, public health physicians.

In 2005, HCA developed a component of the Health Training Package to cover the emerging population health workforce. This included the development of 35 new competencies for recognition and assessment of best practice in population health practice, and the construction of critical new qualifications from Certificate II to IV level, and covering areas of practice such as health promotion, environmental health (Indigenous especially), sexual health and support for communicable diseases control.

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HCA’s long term study of the public health physician workforce began in 2008, and another landmark population health workforce report was published from this work in 2010. The report on the unique contribution to public health work that public health physicians can provide sought to:

  • Clarify current expectations of the role of the public health physician within the public health system and the non-government sector;
  • Describe where this expectation is currently well expressed through job positions / descriptions that contribute to appropriate, effective and efficient public health work;
  • Identify new areas of public health practice where public health physicians could contribute
  • Identify the unique contribution of physicians to public health work.

The Final Report was produced for and with the invaluable support of the Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine (AFPHM) and remains a widely cited and quoted report in the profession. HCA is currently undertaking a follow on Public Health Physician Workforce Study also for AFPHM to investigate the current and future demand for and supply of the Public Health Physician workforce and the adequacy of supply to meet future demands. This study is, for the first time, is applying innovative methods to quantify estimates of current demand for public health physicians in Australia that have high face validity and estimates of projected demand up to 2025.

In the interim years, amongst many projects, HCA was engaged by enHealth’s Environmental Health Workforce Working Group to work collaboratively with itself and the broader membership of the enHealth network to develop a national environmental health census. The purpose of this project was to allow the EHWWG to be in better position to understand and direct workforce research initiatives, workforce planning and workforce interventions.

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HCA was also employed to study the workforce implications of the National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health (prevention NP) is an agreement between the Commonwealth of Australia and all States and Territories to inject significant funding from 2009-10 to 2014-15 ($872.1 million) into a range of settings based population health interventions. The overall aims of the project were:

  • To access information about possible workforce shortages and the strategies to address them, to guide future investments;
  • To improve information to support workforce planning and provide a consistent focus on national and regional needs and addressing workforce demand and supply issues in the short, medium and long term.

The methodology adopted in this project conducted an audit of skills, using a competency framework approach, and provided an understanding of the types of skills that, if absent, may prove to be limiting factors on the successful implementation of prevention NP.

HCA is currently assisting the Population Health Unit in South West Sydney Local Health District (SWSLHD) to undertake a workforce development plan that will assist the unit with planning up to 2020. HCA is applying its innovative competency based approach to construct a service specific competency framework that broadly covers the work of all six units within Population Health. This will be used to:

  • Identify the direction of services and the consequent workforce requirements
  • Conduct a workforce needs analysis that will cover workforce numbers, distribution and levels of competence
  • Develop an appropriate recruitment, training and workforce deployment strategies for the Workforce Development Plan.