Research Studies on the Australian Health Labour Force

Year: 1992

Author: Smith, C. Selby

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

A study was undertaken for the Australian Health Ministers' Advisory Council (AHMAC). It was concerned with two main aspects. First, an inventory was developed of all the health labour force research studies undertaken in Australia between 1980 and 1991. Secondly, the researchers were asked: when the research has been used as the basis for policy, program or administrative action, that the outcomes of that action be documented; and when the research has not led to action, that the reasons or barriers to the research being applied, be elicited and documented. The research study was undertaken by a team led by the author of this paper. The study was completed in February 1992 and found 321 health labour force studies. The second part of the study reviewed relevant literature and undertook six specific case-studies. Of the case-studies three were on doctors, three on nurses, while two were at national level, two in New South Wales and two in Victoria. This paper for A.A.R.E. discusses some of the major findings of the study, focussing particularly on the first task set for the research team i.e. the development of the inventory. It might be asked how such a project is linked to the economics of education. At first sight the project, however interesting, may not appear to be in the mainstream of the economics of education. However, it has links to the development and particularly the use of educated labour for example, in educational institutions, in the health sector and in government. It illustrates aspects of the operation and output of educational institutions. It raises issues about whether research is used in the public policy process and whether it influences changes in policies and practice in a major industry (if so, how, and if not, why not). In Australia health expenditure represents some eight percent of GDP and employs about seven percent of the workforce, including some of the most highly educated labour in the country. Issues relevant to the project reported here are important, for example, for the operation of educational institutions, resource allocation choices and incentive structures within them. They also bear on some of the current themes in Federal policy for higher education, such as the links between educational institutions and governments, other potential users or the wider society.