The Territory needs more allied health professionals - what's being done to help?

For people living in rural and remote Australia, access to allied health services are limited.

What do we mean by allied health? We’re referring to health professionals who are not doctors, dentists or nurses, but occupational therapists, physiotherapists, audiologists, speech pathologists, and so on.

In 2016, the above professions, along with therapy aides, assistant therapists, divisional therapist assistants, occupational therapist assistants, physiotherapy assistants, carers and aides were all identified, partly through surveys undertaken by Industry Skills Advisory Council NT (ISACNT), as hard to fill jobs across the Northern Territory.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will require more healthcare workers

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is a healthcare program initiated by the Australian Government to provide support for Australians with disability, their families and carers.

As noted in the NT Quality and Safeguarding Framework 2016 (a report which supports the scheme), ‘the NDIS implementation in the Northern Territory will occur through an agreed transition phase from 1 July 2016 to 30 June 2019.

‘The scheme commenced in the Northern Territory on 1 July 2014, with a trial site for people with disability living in the Barkly region.

Once full-scheme implementation is achieved by July 2019, the Commonwealth expects there to be more than 6,500 NDIS participants across the Northern Territory.'

Taking this into account, as the NDIS rolls out further, a larger workforce will be required to assist those eligible for the scheme.

Business Confidence Survey confirms it’s difficult to recruit and retain allied health professionals

But many organisations are finding it ‘extremely difficult’ to recruit allied health workers now. To meet future requirements, we need to increase and promote career pathways in this field.

Exploring this further, National Disability Services (NDS), Australia’s peak body for non-government disability service organisations, has recently published the ‘State of the Disability Sector Report 2016’ which details the difficulties experienced by services in the provision of allied health.

The report is largely based on results from the Business Confidence Survey, completed by almost 550 disability service providers.

The report states that ‘a quarter of organisations employing speech pathologists or occupational therapists found them extremely difficult to recruit and a further third found them moderately difficult to recruit.

‘Organisations have had trouble recruiting psychologists and other types of allied health professionals and difficulty retaining staff in these professions.’

What strategies are being put in place to promote career options across healthcare?

The ISACNT team has met with allied health employers including staff from the Department of Health. They all spoke about the challenges to service delivery and agreed that more could be done to give young people an opportunity to consider careers in health.

Many students are reported to be expressing an interest to work in health, but are often channeled into administrative roles that are not their preference. This makes the student more likely to withdraw from the industry since their thought is often, “I signed up for health… but this is not what I expected.”

Thankfully, many state and territory governments are responding to concerns about disability workforce capacity and capability by funding workforce action plans and initiatives.

Indigenous Allied Health Australia (IAHA) provides a great workforce strategy example.

IAHA is engaging with Northern Territory organisations including ISACNT to develop a pathway to allied health occupations.

The aim is to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander school students and their families are aware of career options and opportunities across health and other related sectors.

To support this, a vocational stream completed as part of secondary school education is being planned. This will provide more opportunity for young people to develop skills and knowledge for work in allied health as they complete their secondary education.

Why vocational training programs in schools are so important

Workforce development commonly includes vocational training strategies to build capacity in the workforce. The introduction of this Allied Health Vocational Training program in schools will provide a much-needed career pathway for young people to take up studies and consider future jobs in allied health.

Combined with completion of year 12, this may lead to higher education studies in allied health post school that will result in more allied health workers across Northern Territory.

In the longer term, services providing programs for clients will be in a much stronger position to deliver allied health services with a bigger pool of workers to draw from.

Clients receiving services funded through NDIS will benefit from this planned initiative to improve service provision.

Everyone benefits through this collaborative initiative that ISACNT is committed to being a part of.

If this article has struck a chord with you, do get in touch. We are here to support workforce development for all industries across the Territory, and would welcome your input.