Allied health assistants (AHAs) are a rapidly growing group of workers in Australia – although their exact numbers are unknown. AHAs provide the potential to augment the delivery of high quality allied health work, as well as help address some of the unmet allied health workforce demand, resulting from shortages in a number of allied health professions. This article provides the rationale for the development of a national association for AHAs in Australia, and commences the consultation around the proposed membership and accreditation structure of AHAs.
At the end of this article, you will find a link to a video describing the proposed A.H.A.N.A. membership structure, and a brief survey for you to provide your feedback before the 19th August, 2022. Participants attended a live webinar on the 10th August and the recording of the webinar can be accessed at the end of this article.
Who are allied health assistants (AHAs)?
Allied health assistants are an unregulated and unregistered workforce in Australia. They work as assistants to qualified allied health professionals (eg physiotherapists, podiatrists, speech pathologists etc) and sometimes have a ‘generic’ workload (i.e. they work across multiple different professions).
AHAs tend to have vocational qualifications to certificate III or IV level, although this is not always mandatory. Increasingly, undergraduate students of allied health courses are employed part-time to work as AHAs during their study. This is often also a pathway to employment for allied health students after they graduate.
The AHA workforce has been around for as long as allied health professions have been around (probably 100 years), although they have always not been called allied health assistants. In Australia, AHAs have only really been an accepted part of the workforce for the past 20 years. They have grown rapidly in response to the pressures on the allied health workforce from NDIS, aged care and general allied health workforce shortages.
Initially, AHAs faced resistance from ‘qualified’ professionals due to the fear of competition. More recently state governments have stepped in to build the AHA workforce.
Organisation of the AHA workforce in Australia
Because the AHA workforce isn’t formally organised or systematically trained, there is no clear national data on the scale of the allied health assistant workforce. A survey of the AHA workforce in Victoria in 2016 showed then that the AHA workforce comprised around 1000 workers in Victoria alone. Since then, the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services has introduced active programs to increase the AHA workforce, and anecdotal evidence suggests that the private allied health workforce is an increasingly large employer of AHAs. Most other state governments have introduced similar programs. It is likely that there are somewhere between 7,000 – 10,000 AHAs in Australia in 2022.
The AHA workforce is not a clearly defined group, and there is a lot of potential overlap with the personal care workforce, disability workers and assistants working in other areas, such as anaesthetic technicians. This creates further challenges for determining the size and distribution of the AHA workforce.
At present, the AHA workforce varies widely by state and employer, and the quality of training differs widely between providers. The quality of training by RTOs is generally reported to be quite variable, partly because of the lack of standardisation or regulation of the training or the AHA workforce.
Why establish a national association for allied health assistants?
There is already an internal drive for the workforce to get organised
The AHA workforce are fairly well organised for an unregulated and unregistered workforce. A national network of allied health assistants (the Allied Health Assistant National Association Ltd A.H.A.N.A.) was formed in 2019, chaired by Mr Ben Turnbull, and currently has around 1000 active members.
A.H.A.N.A. was organised by volunteers who lacked the resources to take the organisation further. In addition, the fragmentation of the workforce by state, profession, public / private / NDIS / aged care sector makes it difficult for any individual to get any kind of central, national coordination of the workforce.
It helps create consistency of standards of the workforce
AHAs can have expertise in a wide range of specific areas, eg foot care, plaster-cast application, and supporting speech pathologists, but there is no way for them to have those skills formally recognised in a way that easily allows them to move into other settings. When AHAs start in a new role, their roles and responsibilities are largely dictated by their supervisor in that role. This is because the lack of standards means that no two AHAs can be determined to have the same skills. Registration, supported by a self-regulation framework, including professional accreditation, means that a minimum standard has been achieved by an individual – which is transferrable and recognisable across a range of different settings.
To create quality standards for the workforce to maintain
An occupational group can set the standards for supervision, ongoing training, continuing professional development to keep the members ‘in’ the group (or not). This helps improve the quality of the workforce overall, and increase their market niche.
To better protect the public
An occupational register provides a way to monitor workforce quality, ensure minimum standards, including adherence to an agreed code of conduct, and to exclude people who do not adhere to the code of conduct or minimum standards.
To credential specific areas of expertise
Once the workforce is formally organised under the AHA banner, there is the opportunity to accredit certain areas of practice, using ‘micro-credentials’ to ensure that specific workers’ skills are recognised (such as those listed above). In some cases, the credentials already exist for the specific skill set, but the organising framework for the overall AHA profession does not.
To set employment standards for the workforce
Having recognised consistency of the AHA workforce provides opportunities for the workforce to clearly set standards and expectations around employment, reimbursement and quality of service delivery. This will increase the consistency of the AHA workforce and enhance opportunities for transferability of employment between roles and sectors.
What does self-regulation and registration of the allied health assistant workforce mean?
Self-regulation provides an opportunity for an occupational group (eg AHAs) to do the following:
- Set a minimum standard for entry to their group or profession – in other words, to set a minimum level of education / accreditation / certification.
- Create a framework for ensuring the quality of the members of the group – for instance, through adherence to a code of conduct or practice, which a governing group monitors and enforces.
- By setting standards of the workforce, it gives the members of that occupational group bargaining power to limit access to certain kinds of funding to members of that group. For instance, members of self-regulated professions, such as speech pathologists, need to be a member of their professional body to gain access to certain types of funding, such as NDIS, Medicare, and DVA.
Establishment of the Allied Health Assistants’ National Association Ltd (A.H.A.N.A.)
The Allied Health Assistant Network of Australia was successful in obtaining funding and support from HealthWork Solutions to incorporate and begin to form a national association and self-regulation framework. Incorporation of the Allied Health Assistant National Association Ltd (A.H.A.N.A.) took place in April 2022 with Ben Turnbull appointed as the founding CEO, and several former Association committee members forming the Board of Directors.
A.H.A.N.A. is working towards commencing paid membership and a tiered membership structure in the second half of 2022.
CEO, Ben Turnbull has prepared the following video, explaining the proposed direction of A.H.A.N.A., and seeking feedback on the proposed membership structures, fees and benefits to members. Further information is also provided below.
Proposed membership structure
The rationale for the membership structure is described in the video, but is proposed to involve the four tiers outlined below.
|Membership Tier||Description||AQF equivalent||Insurance availability|
|4.Advanced Practicing AHA||Accredited at AQF level 5 – some advanced responsibilities||Diploma or equivalent (AQF level 5)||Yes|
|3.Accredited Practicing AHA||Accredited at AQF level 4||Cert IV in AHA and at least x years of experience (AQF level 4)||Yes|
|2. Practicing AHA||Any currently practicing AHA, but does not meet the entry standard of Cert IV or experience||AQF level 3||Yes|
|1. Non-practicing members||Affiliate member A.H.A.N.A.: Interested 3rd parties, not currently practicing as an AHA|
Honorary members: Anyone A.H.A.N.A. wants to recognise as a member but with no voting rights
Proposed membership fees
Further discussion about the membership fees is provided in the video, but the initial proposed fee structure is outlined below.
|Tier 1 Non-practicing||Tier 2 Practicing AHA|
|Tier 3 Accredited Practicing AHA|
Advanced Practicing AHA
|Endorsements (eg recognised clinical areas of practice)*||N/A||$20 each area||$20 each area||$20 each area|
|Year of introduction||2022||2022||2023||2023|
Provide your feedback
AHANA would value your feedback on the following points:
- The four proposed membership tiers
- The names of the membership tiers
- Costs of membership
- Opportunities for A.H.A.N.A. to add value to their members, and
- Any other suggestions or feedback
Complete a written survey
We are inviting preliminary feedback through a structured, online survey (which should take less than 5 minutes to complete) until Friday the 19th of August. To access the survey, follow this link.
Alternatively, scan the QR code below to access the survey.
If you need a printed version of the survey, you can download a PDF of the survey from this link AHANA Engagement Survey
Written consultation will close Friday 19th August.
Watch the A.H.A.N.A. consultation webinar
AHANA held a live consultation webinar on Wednesday 10th August, 2 – 3pm Australian Eastern Standard Time. A recording of the consultation event is available via the link below.