Managing maternity leave and return to work for Allied Health Professionals in Queensland Health Hospitals – strategies and issues

Ms Julie Hulcombe1, Professor Sandra Capra1, Professor Gillian Whitehouse1

1University Of Queensland, St Lucia, Australia


The majority (79%) of Allied Health Professionals (AHP) employed in Queensland Health are female. The implementation of entitlements to accommodate childcare responsibilities through maternity leave and flexible work arrangements (FWA) on return to work is thus a significant part of managers’ roles.  This aim of this study was to investigate AHP managers’ views on the implementation and impact of these policies.


This was a qualitative study of AHP managers across six professional groups, in seven QH hospitals, varying in size and location. The targeted professional groups included Dietetics, Medical Imaging, Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy, Speech Pathology, and Social Work. These professions were chosen as they varied in gender mix, workforce size and type of work, including hours of work. Data were collected through a survey and an in-depth interview. Respondents were provided with the topics of the interview prior and each was approximately one hour.  Interviews were recorded, transcribed and thematically analysed. Survey data were summed. Appropriate ethics were obtained.


Of the 40 AHP managers invited to participate, 21 (53%%) agreed to participate in the study.  On average 35% (11-62%) of the total headcount in their departments were employed part-time (under FWA). Strategies and issues which emerged included some perverse consequences of the policy for gender equity and management workload; a “muddling through” approach by some managers; lack of normalisation of FWA through job redesign and/or cultural change; and perceived consequences for other employees.


Normalising the right to request FWA for AHP in QH will require organisational support and resources for a more strategic approach.  This would include work redesign and change management strategies.  Earlier and clearer communication with staff on return to work arrangements and counselling with regard to possible impact on careers will be critical.


Julie Hulcombe PSM is an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD), an Adjunct Associate Professor with QUT and presently a part-time doctoral student at the University of Queensland (UQ). She had an extensive career with Qld Health most recently as the Chief Allied Health Officer, Department of Health, Queensland.   She is a past President of the Dietetic Association of Australia (DAA), and has been the Chair of the DAA Dietetic Credentialing Council and the National Allied Health Advisors Committee.

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