Change becomes harder with time

Friday, July 22, 2016 - 09:32

By AIM Education & Training CEO Peter Mobbs

As we discovered following the 2014 Budget and the recent Federal election, health policy is one of those areas that can quickly fire hearts and minds in a major way. We value our health system as a whole, as well as core parts such as Medicare, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and our health workers. We want to protect the good these bring.

The reality for governments is the numbers are not adding up. Treasury’s 2015 Intergenerational Report identifies health as a major pressure for the country’s finances with annual costs per person set to rise almost 2.5 times within 40 years. 

The public discourse often focuses on further cost-cutting or putting up taxes as the way to bridge financial gaps. As a result, we overlook the money we could be saving by better equipping people and organisations.

This was one of the themes we explored at our recent Beyond the Boardroom event, in partnership with The Australian, focusing on allied health. Allied health is a unique and extremely important part of this country, both in human and economic terms.

It’s estimated that allied health delivers 200 million services a year and consists of 1 in 5 health workers.

As our population ages, you don’t need a brain surgeon to conclude that the importance of allied health to our nation will grow exponentially, particularly as people manage long-term chronic conditions such as diabetes or respiratory diseases.

Despite the clear opportunities for the sector, there are major challenges. The sector is disparate and made up of different-sized professions. Data is difficult to gather and compare – whether interstate or internationally.

Many professionals often work independently. Part of the sector is regulated, other parts are not.

We learned from our industry guests at Beyond the Boardroom that while Australia has an allied sector that serves us extremely well, there is room for improvement. And all of the pressures on the sector can lead to poor decisions being made. 

Or as Professor Karen Grimmer, director of the International Centre for Allied Health Evidence at the University of South Australia said: “Our frustration in allied health is that the money is there but it is being spent badly”.

As with all organisations and sectors, better integration between different parts of the health system will lead to greater efficiencies and outcomes. In this context, managing and leading allied health professionals and teams, whether in the private or public sector, can be extraordinarily challenging.

Managers in allied health deal with many challenges including:

  • Competing funding priorities,
  • Resource allocation to the right people, at the right time,
  • Skills shortages, and
  • Stressful professional-client situations.

This all needs to be managed with the greatest care and professionalism.

Allied health may have unique challenges, but the solutions largely start at the same point as in other industries and sectors: identify where the capability in your organisation is and where it needs to move to, and then slowly but surely build it.

Easier said than done. But change on a large scale is rarely easy.

The alternative is even harder.