The Allied Health workforce paradox: The coexistence of oversupply and unmet need

Professor Susan Nancarrow1, Dr Anna Moran2

1Southern Cross University, Coolangatta, Australia, 2University of Melbourne, Albury / Wodonga, Australia

In 2005, the Australian Productivity Commission predicted an impending allied health (AHP) shortfall. Subsequently, numerous new allied health training courses have been introduced nationally for almost every discipline. Thus, over the past decade, the supply of AHPs has increased exponentially for some disciplines, without a commensurate increase in positions for new graduates. In Victoria alone, occupational therapy graduates increased by 39% between 2010 and 2015; dietetics by 95% (2010 – 16); and speech pathology by 221% (2010 – 13).

This paper reports the results of the Victorian Allied Health Workforce Research Project, which involved an environmental scan of 27 allied health disciplines and in-depth analysis of 11 disciplines in Victoria between 2015 and 2018. A primary concern of the majority of professions was the impending over-supply of AHPs. However, the in-depth analysis presented a far more complex picture of supply and demand for AHPs in Victoria. There was strong evidence of new graduates in some disciplines experiencing difficulty finding employment; large numbers of applications for junior positions; and high proportions of participants agreeing that “there are too many graduates in my profession”. Despite these findings, there was also evidence of large pockets of unmet need for AHPs services in specific segments of the community (particularly paediatrics and chronic disease management) as well as in regional and rural areas. The challenges AHP face are to ensure funding models support appropriate AHP distribution; that new graduates receive adequate supervision and support in the workplace; and they can access appropriate career pathways.

The allied health workforce paradox of AHP oversupply coinciding with unmet service need is compounded by a lack of AHP workforce planning tools and business models to support the provision of allied health services where they are most needed.


Susan is Professor of Health Sciences at Southern Cross University. Susan has nearly 20 years’ international experience as a health services researcher with expertise in health workforce reform, service delivery and organisation. In particular, she works with health services to help them think differently about how they organise and deliver care to provide solutions to enhance health care from the patient’s perspective. She is particularly committed to regional and rural health issues, community health, and capacity building. Recent research projects have explored the use of the NBN to provide telehealth to keep older people independent at home; primary health care integration; the use of social media to engage with health service users; and the recent Victorian Allied Health Workforce Research Project.

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