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Allied Health under threat at Barwon Health: AHPs must be led by a Chief Allied Health Officer

VAHPA members at Barwon Health are currently fighting a proposed organisational restructure change in reporting at the Executive level. This would result in Allied Health reporting to the Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer, who will have “Allied Health” attached to their title. 

This is tokenism designed to appease Allied Health Professionals, who are the second largest clinical workforce, into thinking they have representation. However, this sham would create a complete lack of representation at Executive level and would have implications for reporting lines right throughout their structures.

This proposal represents a lack of recognition, a lack of respect, a lack of advocacy, and leads to a dispersed model of care, breaking up the traditional profession-based departments, and leaving Allied Health Professionals dispersed throughout different directorates and departments with no career structure. 

AHPs want to provide the best patient care. This can only be achieved if provided with the best professional and operational structures, optimal resources and the tools to do so. This requires leadership and advocacy at the Executive level. 

The Chief Allied Health Officer (CAHO) must be an Allied Health Professional who understands the nuances of the diversity and complexities of the many different Allied Health professions. AHPs need to be able to think strategically across different disciplines, different skills and the different needs of the patients to understand the importance of influencing care and outcomes. 

VAHPA members at Barwon Health continue to resist this change through an inundation of feedback to Barwon Health. On Wednesday 19 April, VAHPA members showed up in force in their own short lunchtime to demand that Barwon Health listen to Allied Health. This action was covered in the Geelong Advertiser that day and in the Green Left Weekly the following day.

Why this struggle is critical for all of Allied Health

Allied Health must be led and represented by Allied Health Professionals. The Victorian Government Department of Health has produced a short video which explains and highlights the differences between the two models of care – collective and dispersed.

Andrew Hewat, Executive Officer for VAHPA states:

 If the dispersed model is applied across the therapies in hospitals, it will dismantle their discipline specific departments, and the AHPs will belong to multi-disciplinary teams under different directorates and managed by non-allied health professions.

A recent Queensland study (Tutaro, Oprescu & Whiteoak 2023) confirms that a dispersed model of care ‘is not fit for purpose’ and would have detrimental impacts to health service delivery, loss of professional identity, negative impacts on professional lead and AH management and a negative impact on morale and culture.

The study clearly indicates that there is a ‘need for the allied health operational supervisor [CAHO] to have excellent understanding of each allied health profession to be able to make accurate decisions about delivering care to patients in an environment that required daily adjustments to staff’. A Chief Allied Health Officer is ‘needed to ensure allied health priorities are considered in the organisational strategies process.’

Ultimately, this is about patient care

Additionally to the above, what this struggle is about is ensuring the best patient care for our public health system. Only in a collective model with a Chief Allied Health Officer at the Executive Level can we ensure that the public gets the care it needs and deserves.

Barwon Health is sub-optimising  patient care if it proceeds with its current plan to put the wrong management structure in charge of Allied Health. Our work is deeply specialised, requires technical expertise and is critical to providing best patient care, from diagnosis through to rehabilitation. 

We need the best professional and operational structures, optimal resources and the tools to do so. This requires direct leadership and advocacy by and for Allied Health at the Hospital Executive management level by an Allied Health Professional. Allied Health Professionals know best how to apply our specialist skills and knowledge to the specific and differing needs of all patients.

This is about ensuring the right people are in the right place at the right time to achieve the best care and outcomes for patients.

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