Challenges in rural and remote allied health workforce planning

Ilsa Nielsen1, Mark Minnery2

1Allied Health Professions’ Office of Queensland, Queensland Department of Health, Level 6, 5B Sheridan St, Cairns, 4870. ilsa.nielsen@health.qld.gov.au
2Allied Health Professions’ Office of Queensland, Queensland Department of Health, Level 1, 15 Butterfield St, Herston, 4006

Background

Allied health workforce planning in rural and remote areas is complicated by small staffing numbers, limited data and complex outreach and inter-agency service models. This project aimed to map the access to public allied health services in Queensland and provide data and methods to support ongoing workforce planning.

Methods

Staffing establishment and average clinical service hours by location, and total telehealth and travel hours per fortnight were reported by health service managers in Queensland Hospital and Health Services. Data were analysed descriptively, and correlation and regression analyses were undertaken of staffing establishment and clinical hours data against selected health, social, demographic and service indicators.

Results

Although impacted by small data sets, the analysis failed to identify an indicator that was consistently correlated with staffing establishment or clinical services hours across professions.  Substantial ranges in workforce data were evident for most professions even within clinical service classification groups.  Approximately half of reported positions travelled to provide services, with an average of one day per fortnight allocated to travel for these positions.  A minority of allied health positions (17%) accounted for all telehealth service activity reported.

Discussion

This project demonstrates the challenges to feasibility and validity of ratio-based workforce planning for rural and remote allied health services.  The findings also indicated that the use of staffing establishment as an indicator of service access for consumers is undermined by outreach to and from rural centres and by telehealth services, although the extent of this limitation varies between professions.

Biography

Ilsa Nielsen is currently employed as Principal Workforce Officer in the Allied Health Professions’ Office of Queensland, Department of Health.  This role is based in Cairns and supports workforce policy, planning and development for rural and remote allied health services in Queensland Health.  Ilsa has post-graduate qualifications in public health, education, and health economics and policy.  Her former appointments include academic and clinical physiotherapy positions, and she maintains involvement in undergraduate teaching as an adjunct senior lecturer at James Cook University.