By Austra Health
Aug 21, 2020
The pandemic’s impacts on Australia’s healthcare workforce
Even before COVID-19 reached Australian shores, the country’s healthcare sector faced difficulties, including maintaining sufficient numbers of experienced health professionals and carers to meet the growing demands of an ageing population and increases in chronic disease.
The pandemic has placed even greater demands on the sector, and created a shift in the healthcare workforce, with there being increased pressure to fill workforce gaps. Furthermore, there will need to be strategies implemented by organisations to build resilience in the workforce in the long-term, which will ensure better outcomes in the instance of another health crisis such as this.
So just how has the workforce changed during this time to adapt to these unknown circumstances?
Redirection of resources
Increasing and redirecting the supply of a suitably qualified healthcare workforce is critical to being able to meet demand during the pandemic. In many Australian states, elective and non-essential surgeries were - and continue to be - put on hold so that medical employees can be redistributed to where their skills are needed the most. This has seen many clinicians from the private sector be redeployed to the public health system to support COVID-19 efforts.
The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), alongside several other medical bodies, announced they would establish a short-term pandemic response sub-register for the next 12 months.
This means that doctors, nurses, midwives and pharmacists who previously held general or specialist registration and left the Register of Practitioners, or moved to non-practising registration in the past three years, will receive fast-tracked registration in order to be able to return to practice. The intent is for a greater number of those who stepped out of practicing roles to return to providing direct medical care during the pandemic.
The state of allied health
For many NDIS providers in Melbourne, which from August 2 has been in stage 4 lockdown, recruitment has slowed down significantly or halted completely. This is in part due to both clinicians and NDIS participants and their families wanting to limit interactions to reduce risks of contracting the virus. Austra Health Consultant Harry Danilis says clinicians have reported finding it difficult to conduct effective assessments and provide treatment in the face of social distancing, and wearing masks and other necessary PPE.
Community health centres
Despite ramping up testing and virtual visits, health centres are reporting steep declines in patient visits. In fact, community health centres reported a 43% drop in the number of patient visits compared to before the pandemic, as many people across the country are avoiding non-essential trips to health care providers. The drop in visits comes even after health centres have been increasing the number of telehealth visits, conducting roughly half of visits virtually or over the phone.
Harry says many of the healthcare workers within these community centres are choosing to remain there despite the decrease in work however, as they have access to the Federal government’s wage subsidy plan. It will be vital for healthcare professionals to return to work at community health centres as demand rises over time, to ensure these services aren’t compromised.
Mental health services
The exact toll on mental health during the pandemic is yet to be known, however with support services like Beyond Blue recording an increase of 47% in calls compared to this time last year, it is expected that mental health services will be in high demand for years to come.
To facilitate additional services, the Australian Government has announced it will provide $31.9 million to create 15 mental health clinics across Victoria and further enhance essential support during the COVID-19 pandemic and into the future. These clinics will support GPs by providing access to multidisciplinary teams of mental health workers, including psychologists, mental health nurses, and social workers. This will see a sharp upturn in recruitment for mental health professionals in order to meet increased demand for these services.
Utilisation of telehealth services
There has been a significant uptake in telehealth since the COVID-19 outbreak. The list of telehealth services has continued to expand since 13 March and are available to GPs, medical practitioners, nurse practitioners, participating midwives and allied health providers. This not only protects both medical professionals and their patients, but also allows continued treatment of non COVID-related illnesses.
Despite telehealth facilitating necessary healthcare during this time, there are also challenges for the workforce in using technology for distance care. For example, for some patients, it can be difficult to engage, diagnose and treat them in a telehealth setting.
If you are seeking talent, partner with a recruitment company that specialises in healthcare and contact Austra Health today.