Over the summer break reports prepared by the Victorian Allied Health Workforce Research Program were released and they make for some very interesting reading.
The research conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services covered a range of disciplines, and more particularly the research covers medical scientists, audiologists, dietitians and psychologists, among other workforces in allied health. It won’t come as a surprise to many to learn that the research concerning medical scientists confirms the research findings of 10 to 15 years ago; there is an impending crisis in the medical science workforce. It shows that these concerns are still very relevant and need considerable attention before further demise and deterioration occurs. This research supports the most recent research by RMIT University in the Bartram report. And this research confirms the research the Union has been independently doing since 2011.
All the research points to one thing – there is a crisis in the medical scientists workforce with not nearly enough scientists available to fulfil the required work; or to deal with the continued growth and demand on pathology services.
For dietitians the research highlights key areas of concern included inadequate resourcing to meet population needs such as the increasing prevalence of obesity and diabetes; and the lack of funding and changes in funding models resulting in dietitians not providing services to all of those who would benefit from seeing them.
A recurrent theme in the research of the dietetics workforce was an absence of career development opportunities and difficulty in securing permanent employment. Career pathways are not clear and a lack of post-graduate training pathways and opportunities were highlighted. Despite working in a clinical role, 30% of dietitians had no clinical supervisor and highlighted the need for early career graduates to be supported. No one working as a dietitian will be surprised by the research outcomes or the work done by the Union which have highlighted these very concerns over a number of years.
For audiologists the concerns are very similar to dietitians. The research highlights there are poor opportunities for career progression and senior roles are scarce and career pathways are not clear. The research points out that there is a lack of publicly-funded services in the community, particularly in regional areas and Indigenous communities. And audiologists also believed that the community and other health professionals needed to have a better understanding of the breadth of services they provide, beyond fitting hearing aids, and the importance of hearing health to general wellbeing.
The research points to the need to better support audiologists in coping with reforms arising from government inquiries into the industry, changing funding arrangements (particularly the introduction of the NDIS), and the possibility of tighter regulatory arrangements. And the research noted there was a strong recurrent theme in the need to provide more opportunities for career progression and recognition.
The research released into the psychology workforce did not suggest that there was a shortage of psychologists; rather, there is a lack of appropriately funded and graded positions within the community to meet the needs of clients. The VPA has been doing significant work around workforce issues especially around ensuring there is a large enough workforce to deal with the growing demand for mental health care, and the results of this research shows the VPA has been successful.
However the research did indicate that there was a need for clearer career development pathways including continuing professional development opportunities, mentorship and opportunities to undertake research were identified. The research suggests the need to review the impact of privatisation and fee-for-service payments on the workforce. The research also suggests that there is a need for further investigation into the understanding of supervision, peer consultation and mentoring. This is not surprising given how frequently the VPA has to intervene and ensure that members have access to supervision. It’s also extremely frustrating and disappointing that health services fail to understand the value and significance that supervision, peer consultation and mentoring provides psychologists in delivering world-class mental health care.
What all of this research says is that there has been massive neglect of the allied health workforce to the detriment of patients and the people working in allied health disciplines. It clearly shows the government, whether Labor or Liberal, have neglected vital aspects of Victoria’s health care system by refusing to acknowledge the importance and value of the allied health workforce.
The Union is working hard to make sure newly elected Members of Parliament are made aware of our concerns, the research presented by the Department of Health and Human Services; and to ensure they advocate for the needs of our members.
But if we are to truly have any impact and to ensure that the Victorian Government doesn’t neglect our workforces we must make our voices very loud and very clear.
The Union will be discussing tactics we can use to amplify our voices so they’re even louder over the coming weeks and ahead of the state budget being prepared.