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Economic value of healthcare workforce vs support out of balance: WA report

The health sector is making a considerable contribution to WA’s coffers, but this value may not be reflected in support for its workforce, according to a new report.

To Health and Happiness: WA’s Health Industry Future, released by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre today, examined the supply and demand for healthcare services in the state and the workforce that delivers them.

It also confirmed something aged care workers have long been telling unions and the media – that personal care workers are likely to be substituting the work of enrolled nurses in Australia’s residential aged care homes.

Report author Professor Alan Duncan said the research found that overall the number of qualified staff has failed to keep pace with the number of people in residential aged care in the state with complex healthcare needs.

“Across the state, less than a half (45 per cent) of the number of full-time enrolled nurses that should be employed in aged care are actually working in the sector, yet personal care workers are outnumbering their place in the estimated required workforce by as much as 173 per cent,” Duncan said.

“A similar trend was reported nationally, suggesting a substitution effect of low-skilled workers for higher-skilled tasks is occurring in the Australian aged care sector, which represents a risk to both those undertaking the care work and those being cared for.”

Overall, the report also found there was an increase in the number of Australian healthcare and support workers experiencing high or very high psychological distress – up from 13.1 per cent in 2007 to 16.3 per cent in 2015.

The level of support workers feeling very satisfied with their job also dropped, from 46 per cent in 2001 to 30 per cent in 2016.

“Signs of increasing poor physical health and psychological distress among healthcare and support workers, coupled with falling shares of the workforce being very satisfied with their jobs, could indicate a sector where employees are not given adequate support,” Duncan said.

With the report confirming that the healthcare sector is ranked third in terms of contribution to the WA economy, Duncan said the attention paid to the sector and the health and wellbeing of its own workforce may not be commensurate with its value.

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