The health sector needs to be “courageous” and “agile” to meet the growing health burden – but also crucially needs to create health jobs that people actually want, argues Professor Des Gorman.

Change isn’t always comfortable but, like it or not, it’s happening. It’s time to own it and embrace it.

Des Gorman

Our ageing and growing population and rapid developments in technology, clinical practice and models of care are putting greater demands on our already stretched health workforce. And while demand is growing and changing, we know that within the next few years we won’t have the health workforce to care for people in the way we do now.

These challenges aren’t new or unique to New Zealand, but we have to be much more courageous, agile and dynamic if we’re going to address them. We need a very different ways of providing services and a different proposition for patients.

Our health burden is alarming. Social and lifestyle factors are huge causes of ill health, demand for mental health services is escalating and inequities in access and outcomes persist in Maori and Pacific communities.

We need to do more to keep people well, avoid more complex interventions and hospital admissions and move away from reactive, episodic, disconnected services. That means making care closer to home a reality, bridging boundaries between hospitals and primary care and health and social care, with coordinated care planning and delivery around what people need and want.  It means supporting and empowering individuals and whānau to look after their own health and wellbeing, driving health literacy and putting the needs of individuals and communities at the heart of service and workforce planning.

That starts with reorienting thinking towards primary and community care, making the home and the community, rather than the hospital, the locus of care, employment and training. Rightly, people want and expect to be partners in their own care. That means equipping our workforce with the skills to facilitate and advise as partners and advocates in a new paradigm of participatory health. It means combining aptitude in social as well as health issues and a focus on proven preventative measures alongside technical competencies.

Creating a tech savvy, adaptable workforce that people want to join

Technological advances create opportunity, but have major implications for how we deploy and train our workforce. We can expect virtual services to increasingly complement or supplement face-to-face services; and remote and virtual care to become the norm. Big data allows us to plan and target services where they are most needed and have greatest impact. That requires a workforce that is not only technologically savvy, but one that can flex and adapt, with shared curricula and training and options for retraining.

New roles and new ways of working that are fit for the 21st century need to promote capacity and sustainability, as well as improving patient access and convenience – roles such as health coaches and navigators, roles in research and leadership and realising the potential of the Kaiawhina workforce.

Crucially, we need to create jobs that people want. Flexibility needs to work for staff as well as service users, with fair rewards, work-life balance and enhanced career pathways for all members of the multi-disciplinary team.

Health sector feedback wanted

It’s a big ask. That’s why, over the next six months, HWNZ will be developing a national strategic plan that aims to ensure we have a fit-for-purpose health and disability workforce for all our population for the next decade and beyond.

The plan will provide the roadmap for change, and will be developed in collaboration with all parts of the sector and input from consumers. It will provide the framework for future workforce decision-making and investment, with agreed priorities and actions that are reviewed and updated annually.

We want your input to ensure our strategy is both visionary and meaningful. Let us know what your priorities and concerns are, share your ideas and solutions, and help us develop and deliver the change we need. Email: info@healthworkforce.govt.nz

Professor Des Gorman is Executive Chair of Health Workforce New Zealand. He is a Professor of Medicine and Associate Dean, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, at the University of Auckland.

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