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1.  Working in disadvantaged communities: What additional competencies do we need? 
Background
Residents of socioeconomically disadvantaged locations are more likely to have poor health than residents of socioeconomically advantaged locations and this has been comprehensively mapped in Australian cities. These inequalities present a challenge for the public health workers based in or responsible for improving the health of people living in disadvantaged localities. The purpose of this study was to develop a generic workforce needs assessment tool and to use it to identify the competencies needed by the public health workforce to work effectively in disadvantaged communities.
Methods
A two-step mixed method process was used to identify the workforce needs. In step 1 a generic workforce needs assessment tool was developed and applied in three NSW Area Health Services using focus groups, key stakeholder interviews and a staff survey. In step 2 the findings of this needs assessment process were mapped against the existing National Health Training Package (HLT07) competencies, gaps were identified, additional competencies described and modules of training developed to fill identified gaps.
Results
There was a high level of agreement among the AHS staff on the nature of the problems to be addressed but less confidence indentifying the work to be done. Processes for needs assessments, community consultations and adapting mainstream programs to local needs were frequently mentioned as points of intervention. Recruiting and retaining experienced staff to work in these communities and ensuring their safety were major concerns. Workforce skill development needs were seen in two ways: higher order planning/epidemiological skills and more effective working relationships with communities and other sectors. Organisational barriers to effective practice were high levels of annual compulsory training, balancing state and national priorities with local needs and giving equal attention to the population groups that are easy to reach and to those that are difficult to engage. A number of additional competency areas were identified and three training modules developed.
Conclusion
The generic workforce needs assessment tool was easy to use and interpret. It appears that the public health workforce involved in this study has a high level of understanding of the relationship between the social determinants and health. However there is a skill gap in identifying and undertaking effective intervention.
doi:10.1186/1743-8462-6-10
PMCID: PMC2684114  PMID: 19393091
2.  How do government health departments in Australia access health economics advice to inform decisions for health? A survey 
Background
Government anticipates that health economic analysis will contribute to evidence-based policy development. Early examples in Australia where this expectation has been met include the economic evaluations of breast and cervical screening. However, the level of integration of health economics within health services that require this advice appears uneven. We sought to describe how government health departments in Australia use specialist health economic advice to inform policy and planning and the mechanisms through which they access this advice.
Methods
Information describing the arrangements for gaining health economics input into health decision-making was sought through interviews with a purposeful sample of economists and non-economists employed by all departments of health in Australia (state, territories and national). The survey was undertaken in August 2004. To aid interpretation of the results eight health economic functions were identified. As a comparison, four other government departments in NSW provided information about their access to economic advice.
Results
All health departments except one reported being current users of health economics expertise. A variety of arrangements were described to source this, from building organisational capacity with self-sufficient in-house units to forging links with external sources. However, specialist positions for economists or health economists employed within health were few. A framework mapping these arrangements for sourcing advice with the eight common health economic functions to be met is presented. All other non-health government departments approached accessed economic advice, with three having in-house units.
Discussion
A small health economics capacity in Australia has been established over the past 30 years through a variety of structural and strategic mechanisms. Health departments value health economic advice and use a variety of arrangements to obtain this. These arrangements have strengths and weaknesses depending upon the task to be undertaken. The lack of uniformity of approach suggests that health departments are still seeking the best ways to incorporate this form of specialist advice into mainstream decision-making.
Implications
Summarises ways that governments source specialist services. Demonstrates how to describe an organisation's need for specialist services as a set of functions. This approach could be applied to assessing need for other specialist areas of advice.
doi:10.1186/1743-8462-6-6
PMCID: PMC2674050  PMID: 19358711

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