Monday, 21 June 2010

Improving workforce retention in rural health services.

High turnover of health workers in rural and remote areas leads to avoidable recruitment costs, according to a study released today from the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute (APHCRI) at The Australian National University.

The research found that many small rural and remote communities experience high levels of staff turnover, but describes a range of retention strategies that will help services hold on to staff.

The study, led by APHCRI network researchers Professors John Humphreys and John Wakerman, investigated the pattern of workforce retention for small rural and remote primary health care services.

It found that the money spent on recruiting new staff can be better used on retention packages that prevent existing staff from leaving. The report recommends adapting retention packages to suit the geographic location and local health needs of staff.

Professor Humphreys, who heads rural health research at Monash University in Bendigo, said the costs of replacing staff, conservatively estimated, equated to: $20,000 for a nurse, $74,000 for a doctor, $22,000 for an allied health professional, $14,000 for an Indigenous health worker and $30,000 for a health service manager.

"High workforce turnover also results in significant indirect costs such as loss of skills and experience, restricted access to health services and compromised quality of care," he said. "Increasing the length of service for rural and remote health workers through financial incentives alone is unlikely to adequately address the problem."

Report co-author, Professor Wakerman, Director of the Centre for Remote Health in Alice Springs, said a comprehensive workforce strategy is needed. "To have any chance of success, a strategy needs to consider effective management, governance and leadership, sustainable and flexible funding and well supported information management systems and infrastructure," he said.

"Appropriately targeted incentives such as paid housing could result in a greater length of service for health workers and consequently improved patient care without additional cost to health services."

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