Care sector looking healthy

03/11/2014 - 11:35

The state’s healthcare and social services sectors are in for another decade of rapid change, industry leaders say, after growing employee numbers by more than 60,000 during the past 10 years.

Care sector looking healthy
CUTTING EDGE: Chris McGowan says the not-for-profit group values innovation. Photo: Attila Csaszar

The state’s healthcare and social services sectors are in for another decade of rapid change, industry leaders say, after growing employee numbers by more than 60,000 during the past 10 years.

“The growth area for us is bringing healthcare into people’s homes,” said Chris McGowan, chief executive of non-profit group Silver Chain.

At almost half the price of treating a patient in a hospital, and with the majority of patients preferring treatment at home, such a focus could help alleviate some of the pain of rising health costs, which are projected to increase substantially as Australia’s population ages.

Mr McGowan said a recent report by visiting staff from Britain’s National Health Service highlighted that at least 28 per cent of patients currently in hospitals in Western Australia didn’t need to be there.

Health is the single greatest portion of the state government’s budget, at more than a quarter of total expenditure, and the Department of Health is the state’s single biggest employer, with more than 35,500 full-time equivalent employees.

This number is still growing, with Fiona Stanley Hospital expected to reach nearly 4,000 employees at full operation next year.

The Barnett government has encouraged private companies and community groups to become more involved in healthcare, leading to an increased demand for not-for-profit groups such as Silver Chain, but projections show public health spending will continue to grow.

A recent Grattan Institute report found that, during the past decade, health spending had increased around $4 billion in real terms, mostly driven by population growth.

Much of this increased spending has been focused on the elderly, with an average cost of $16,000 per individual patient over the age of 75, more than double the amount in 1988-89 after removing the effect of inflation.

Private health

Private provider Ramsay Health Care is another major employer, increasing staff numbers by more than 600 from the 2013 BNiQ biggest employers list, mostly driven by operations at the Peel Health Campus.

“We’re in an industry that doesn’t really get affected that much by the economy,” operations manager (WA) Kevin Cass-Ryall said.

“If people are unwell, they’re unwell.

“With the aging population, we’re probably going to get busier.”

To cope with the increased demand, Mr Cass-Ryall said the industry needed continued growth and an increase in efficiency.

He said Ramsay had found an easing of the labour market had improved its ability to find skilled staff, but that the company would continue to maintain a focus on its employees.

“Recruitment was more challenging during the mining boom,” Mr Cass-Ryall said.

“Ramsay has a flexible approach to the workforce … we think work-life balance is really important.”

He said programs such as an employee share-offer scheme had resonated with staff, contributing to Hollywood Private Hospital recently ranking first among all hospitals in Australia by staff morale.

ESSENTIAL SERVICE: Kevin Cass-Ryall says economic fluctuations have little real effect on demand for Ramsay Health Care's services.

In an industry where staff plays a pivotal role in working directly with patients, Mr Cass-Ryall said morale was important for quality service.

Ramsay operates two hospitals in agreements with the state government, Joondalup and Peel, with 2,791 and 900 staff respectively.

Mr Cass-Ryan said future public-private partnerships would depend on the needs of the state government.

St John of God Health Care also expanded this year, up by nearly 1,000 employees with the purchase of the former Mercy Hospital Mt Lawley.

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