Review of Australian Government Health Workforce Programs

5.2 National initiatives to increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workforce capacity

Page last updated: 24 May 2013

Council of Australian Governments initiatives

Through the COAG process National Partnership Agreements (NPAs) were developed in 2008-09. The agreements encompass Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander early childhood, health, education and employment with the health elements being underpinned by a focus on building Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workforce capacity. This has led to greater workforce momentum, reflected in the 2011 census data.

Although raw numbers in some cases are very small, in percentage terms there have been substantial increases in the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors (61%), registered nurses (54%), enrolled nurses (32%), allied health professionals (ranging from 5% to 257% depending on discipline), and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers (30%) between 2006 and 2011. As outlined in Table 5.2 above, despite these recent increases, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to be under-represented in the health workforce (1.8% of health workers nationally in 2011).

The expansion of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce and increased capacity of the health workforce to deliver effective care is a priority area of the Indigenous Chronic Disease Package, under the National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ Health Outcomes (2009–2013). The following summary outlines some of the key planning and consultation processes that have been developed to contribute to achieving the Closing the Gap goals.

Box 5.2: Examples of various national initiatives

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan

In September 2012 the Minister for Indigenous Health, the Hon. Warren Snowdon MP, launched a Discussion Paper underpinning national consultations for the development of a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan. Though there is still work to be completed, from a workforce perspective, the key themes that have already emerged from consultations include:

  • the need for clearly articulated flexible pathways from school to vocational education and training (VET) and to either work or undergraduate studies in health; and
  • attracting, training and retaining both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non–Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Indigenous health service provision.119

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework 2012 Report was released in November 2012. This report measures the impact of the National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and identifies some improvements in mortality and avoidable mortality, circulatory disease, education, employment, access to prescription medicines, immunisation and antenatal care.120 The report, however, notes ongoing data issues and continuing concerns in chronic disease management, cancer, kidney disease, low birth weight and eye health. This work is informing the development of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan and will guide the development of future health workforce initiatives.

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workforce Strategic Framework

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workforce Strategic Framework (2011-15), which was endorsed by the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council in 2011, has an aspirational target of 2.6% of the health workforce being Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander by 2015. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workforce Working Group (ATSIHWWG) developed the Framework. ATSIHWWG is comprised of representatives of Commonwealth, state and territory governments, representatives of the Aboriginal community-controlled health sector and peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workforce organisations, who are responsible for monitoring and reporting on progress to achieve targets under the framework.

National Registration and Accreditation Scheme

On 1 July 2012, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioners were included as part of the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (NRAS), providing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioners and students with opportunities to be nationally registered. The purpose of national registration is to enhance the quality of holistic health care provided to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The approved program of study for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioners is currently a Certificate IV in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care (Practice). The majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioners currently registered under NRAS are from the Northern Territory.121

Health Workforce Australia

Current work is being undertaken by HWA to inform Government policy and program development. In particular, the HWA study of the roles of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers and Practitioners may assist with providing a better understanding on how this workforce can contribute to improved health outcomes.

HWA is also working with Indigenous Allied Health Australia and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker Association on a number of projects and studies contributing to building the capacity of these important workforces.

[end of box]

While these significant ongoing consultation, planning and policy development processes are all important steps in addressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health outcomes they will not, by themselves, translate into measurable change at the community level. As these processes are quite recent and development work is continuing, the achievement of clear outcomes was not completely apparent during the course of this review.


119 Accessed at Department of Health and Ageing www.health.gov.au/natsihp

120 Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council (AHMAC), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework 2012 Report, AHMAC, Canberra, 2012

121 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practice Board of Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Registration Data: March 2013, accessed at http://www.atsihealthpracticeboard.gov.au/About/Statistics.aspx