This paper proposes approaches to break down the boundaries that reduce the ability of the health workforce to respond to population needs, or workforce flexibility. Accessible health services require sufficient numbers and types of skilled workers to meet population needs. However, there are several reasons that the health workforce cannot or does not meet population needs. These primarily stem from workforce shortages. However, the health workforce can also be prevented from responding appropriately and efficiently because of restrictions imposed by professional boundaries, funding models or therapeutic partitions. These boundaries limit the ability of practitioners to effectively diagnose and treat patients by restricting access to specific skills, technologies and services. In some cases, these boundaries not only reduce workforce flexibility, but they introduce inefficiencies in the form of additional clinical transactions and costs, further detracting from workforce responsiveness. Several new models of care are being developed to enhance workforce flexibility by enabling existing staff to work to their full scope of practice, extend their roles or by introducing new workers. Expanding on these concepts, this theoretical paper proposes six principles that have the potential to enhance health workforce flexibility, specifically: 1. Measure health system performance from the perspective of the patient. 2. Minimise training times. 3. Regulate tasks (competencies), not professions. 4. Match rewards and indemnity to the levels of skill and risk required to perform a particular task, not professional title. 5. Ensure that practitioners have all the skills they need to perform the tasks required to work in the environment in which they work 6. Enable practitioners to work to their full scope of practice delegate tasks where required These proposed principles will challenge some of the existing social norms around health-care delivery; however, many of these principles are already being applied, albeit on a small scale. This paper discusses the implications of these reforms.
1. Is person-centred care at odds with professional monopolies? 2. Should the state regulate professions and, by doing so, protect professional monopolies or, instead, regulate tasks or competencies? 3. Can health-care efficiency be enhanced by reducing the number of clinical transactions required to meet patient needs?