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Australia’s Future Health Workforce Reports
Australia’s Future Health Workforce Reports (AFHW) provide medium to long-term national workforce planning projections for different professions and sectors. Workforce planning projections identify potential gaps between the future supply of, and demand for, the workforce in scope under a range of scenarios. A scenario represents a particular vision of future health care delivery, and in the health workforce context, scenarios are often developed to reflect potential government policy decisions, higher education/training sector activities, employer practices, trends within the existing health workforce and trends within service demand.
The identification of potential workforce gaps through workforce planning projections provides government, professional bodies, employers, and higher education and training providers the opportunity to develop and implement plans to minimise such gaps. Such plans can involve workforce reform, changes to training intakes or pathways, changes to immigration levels, or a combination of all factors. It is this step that is essential in the delivery of a sustainable health workforce.
AFHW focuses on workforce planning at the national level. It is at this level that questions of aggregate supply and demand can be separated from issues of allocation and distribution – the principal aim being to ensure an appropriate pool of professionals is available to meet aggregate demand in Australia.
Australia’s Future Health Workforce – Oral health
Demand for oral health care services is expected to continue to grow in response to population growth, increased tooth retention into older age, greater awareness of the importance of oral health, and more advanced restorative procedures and technologies.1 Recent federal funding can also be expected to have flow-on implications for the oral health workforce.
It is therefore timely for HWA to examine the oral health workforce, with a focus on workforce planning projections. In particular, this work will complement the National Oral Health Plan 2014-2023, providing a strong evidence-base for recommendations made on the oral health workforce.
Australia’s Future Health Workforce – Oral Health (AFHW – Oral Health) provides the results of the oral health workforce planning projections conducted by HWA. It is presented in two publications.
AFHW – Oral Health – Overview. This publication presents HWA’s workforce planning projections for the total oral health workforce, along with a brief description of Australia’s oral health services and demand for those services, particularly amongst specific population groups (children, older people, low income and socially disadvantaged people, people with special needs, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and people living in rural and remote areas).
AFHW – Oral Health – Detailed. This publication supports the overview, and provides:
information on the methodology used to generate the workforce projections for individual oral health workforces
workforce planning projection results for dentists, oral health practitioners (comprised of dental hygienists, dental therapists and oral health therapists) and dental prosthetists
workforce profiles for each oral health workforce, including a brief overview of their role and training pathway, presentation of information describing the number and characteristics of the existing workforce, a summary of issues expected to impact supply and/or demand for the workforce, and an assessment of existing workforce position (whether workforce supply matches demand for services or not).
Workforce projections for the oral health workforce
AFHW – Oral health – Overview provided the workforce planning projections for the total oral health workforce, along with a brief description of Australia’s oral health services and demand for those services, particularly amongst specific population groups (children, older people, low income and socially disadvantaged people, people with special needs, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and people living in rural and remote areas).
In this report, workforce projections are presented for components of the overall oral health workforce. This includes:
Dentists, including dental specialists
Oral health practitioners (comprised of oral health therapists, dental hygienists and dental therapists)
Workforce projections were not able to be conducted separately for:
Oral health therapists
For dental specialists, this was because of the small numbers of registered specialists in most specialties. The increasingly common training pathway and overlap in scopes of practice for oral health therapists, dental hygienists and dental therapists meant combining them into one group was the best approach for the workforce projections; while for the unregistered component of the oral health workforce (dental assistants and dental technicians) data limitations meant workforce projections could not be conducted. For the unregistered workforces, there is no systematic collection of workforce data able to be used to establish workforce supply. A description of the number and characteristics of the unregistered oral health workforce is provided later in this report.
It should be noted substantial data limitations exist in determining workforce demand for dentists (including dental specialists), oral health practitioners and dental prosthetists. These limitations, and the consequent approach taken by HWA to assigning demand to these workforces, are described further below. It should also be noted that the demand component of the workforce planning projections are based on current utilisation patterns, and any potential unmet need is not accounted for.
Along with the workforce planning projections, a set of indicators – collectively called the workforce dynamics indicator (WDI) – has also been generated and is used to highlight aspects of the current workforce that may be of concern into the future.
Information about the workforce projection methodology, planning scenarios and WDI, along with the workforce planning and WDI results, is presented in this chapter.