Who is the health workforce?

What constitutes the health workforce? What is the significance of workforce to the successful delivery of health services?

No health without a workforce

Health workforce is a critical building block for strong health systems. The Global Health Alliance and the World Health Organisation has said that there is ‘no health without a workforce’. Different parts of the health system work together to maintain the health of a community. Individuals and teams of health workers ensure that communities are immunised against disease and that mothers and babies are provided with vital care before, during and after pregnancy. When individuals become very sick with infection or other diseases, doctors, nurses and allied health teams such as pharmacists will work together to restore their health and minimise disability.

As we age, our health needs increase and our general practitioner will care for us to keep us healthy, manage chronic diseases and to keep us out of hospital. In our later years we may even need the high level of care that can be provided in a residential aged care facility. Clinicians and support staff working together are critical to good health services and are one of the building blocks of strong health systems.

Health services are complex, stressful and dynamic work environments relying on the skills and talents of their people. Take for example the outbreak of an infectious disease such as gastroenteritis in a hospital. The response to the outbreak relies on nurses, cleaners, infectious disease specialists and laboratory staff all working together to contain the outbreak and to provide curative care.

Health system building blocks

The image below lists all the building blocks including a skilled health workforce, and the goals of health systems.

Health system building blocks: Skilled, health workforce, health information systems, medical products and technologies, healcare finance or insurance system, leadership and governance, delivery of health services. Goals and outcomes: improved population health, responsive services, financial protection, efficiency

Training and professional development

There are many challenges in ensuring that a strong health workforce is in place to deliver preventative, acute, rehabilitation and health promoting services and treatments. A mix of skills is required to form the clinical teams needed. Healthcare workers are highly educated in the area that they work in, and training doesn’t stop once a formal education has been completed. Health workers need to keep up to date with new treatment approaches, technologies, drugs and models of care in order to deliver effective and evidenced based care.

Globally, rural and remote locations have difficulties in attracting and retaining skilled health workers. Investment in the training and education of health workers is expensive and a world-wide challenge.

So how can we ensure not only the right number of workers in the health system, but the right mix of professionals and skills? Find out in the next Step.

Your task

Watch the following video which highlights the importance of a strong health workforce and the people who make up a health system.

WHO The Power of Health Workers

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

What three strategies does the video suggest for transforming the global health workforce?

References

Global Health Workforce Alliance and World Health Organisation (2014). A Universal Truth: No Health Without a Workforce Third Global Forum on Human Resources for Health Report. Retrieved from: (http://www.who.int/workforcealliance/knowledge/resources/hrhreport2013/en/)

World Health Organisation Western Pacific Region. The WHO Health Systems Framework: (http://www.wpro.who.int/health_services/health_systems_framework/en/)

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This article is from the free online course:

Future-proofing the Health Workforce

Griffith University