Health of the nation relies on sector

Workers in the Healthcare and Social Services industry are generally highly skilled.
Workers in the Healthcare and Social Services industry are generally highly skilled. Rob Wright

OUR aging population has a double impact on the healthcare and social services sector (H&SS).

As older workers move into retirement, they take with them decades of valuable experience, reducing the collective skill set of the labour force.

As they move into retirement and then old age, they put their own pressures on the sector as their demand for services increases - demand which must now be met by a smaller labour force.

Given that two-pronged pressure, there is some relief in the continued strong employment growth in the H&SS sector over the past decade. It's the largest employing industry in the country, accounting for around 12% of total national employment, or some 1.4 million workers.

More than half a million of those workers are located outside state capitals, making the sector very important to the health of our regional communities.

Over the five years to November 2017, according to the Department of Employment, employment is expected to continue to increase strongly, adding more than 177,000 new jobs - more than one fifth of the total new jobs expected over the same period.

The H&SS industry's workforce is female- dominated (most of the largest occupations have relatively small proportions of males employed). It also has a slightly higher proportion of older workers than the average across all industries.

Workers in the Healthcare and Social Services industry are generally highly skilled.

Despite the growing demand for skilled workers, there is concern that the coming federal budget will result in job losses within the sector, with the Medicare Locals program expected to face the axe.

Medicare Locals employs about 3000 people, running locally designed health programs in regional and rural communities.

Dr Arn Sprogis, chairman of the peak body for Medicare Locals, told the ABC the program provided services for people who would otherwise "fall through the gaps".

"It would be an enormous mistake to reduce the number of Medicare Locals and to reduce the activity that they're currently undertaking," he said.

"People have got to realise Medicare Locals only take up about 0.3% of the health care budget."

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