The Heart of Healthcare

Healthcare Australia's CEO, Jason Cartwright poses for interview with The CEO Magazine

This article was first published by The CEO Magazine, click here to read the original article.

The need for qualified health practitioners is increasing rapidly as the healthcare industry in Australia expands. Healthcare Australia is attempting to meet this need in a challenging environment.

Healthcare in Australia, and indeed all over the world, is a booming business. As the population ages and people live longer, more and more money is being spent on healthcare. Globally, a third of all government budgets is spent on healthcare, and this doesn’t include the private health insurance industry or out-of-pocket costs for patients.

A cost that isn’t usually considered when looking at these budgets, however, is the cost of recruiting staff. That’s where Healthcare Australia steps in—the company is the largest health recruiter in the country, providing outsourcing solutions for hospitals and other healthcare providers. CEO of Healthcare Australia, Jason Cartwright, spoke to The CEO Magazine about his background, the issues facing healthcare in Australia, and his vision for the future.

Jason’s background, which is primarily in human resources, has served him well in his current role and given him a good grasp of what makes a good leader. “I started life as an accountant at KPMG, and then moved into the HR consulting world,” Jason explains. “Most recently, prior to coming to Healthcare Australia, I was a board director in Australia for a large multinational staffing company. I think the connection for me with my past experience to my current role is that healthcare is a people business. Around 75 per cent of the cost of healthcare in Australia is in people, so Healthcare Australia is first and foremost a people business. As my entire career has been spent in people-based businesses, this makes it a perfect fit for me.

“Above all, a good leader needs to provide a framework to facilitate a great company culture. You need to provide a framework for the organisation to grow, and an environment where people can discuss ideas and challenges. When you have the right structure, it drives that culture. I think that is the most important part of leadership. I think the second part of being a leader is having a clear direction, or vision, for the company, and consistently articulating that to the organisation so that people are clear on where we are going. Third, a leader is there to facilitate culture, and I think the important thing about a culture, certainly in our industry, is that it is consultative and collaborative, which is what I have pushed here at Healthcare Australia.”

When Jason started at Healthcare Australia, it was already in good shape. The business was leading the market, but needed some fresh leadership to take it to the next level. “Healthcare Australia is 43 years old, and it’s the market leader. It’s also the largest provider of healthcare recruitment staffing in Australia, and has been for quite some time. I inherited a market-leading business which was good, but it had stagnated and stopped growing. So I had a role to do when I came on, and I think the first job was to turn everything around—it was a ‘fixer upper’. The first thing that happened was that we had to address the cost base, and then the second thing was we had to direct the culture.”

Jason said that while the company had set values and a defined culture around those values, there were small things that needed to change. He decided to make the culture more open, reward staff more often, and focus on Healthcare Australia’s customers. “We have got pretty well-defined values and a pretty good culture now that is really centred on our values. Our values are: being sustainable, innovative, collaborative, ethical, and working as a team. Those are pretty hardwired into the DNA of the company. And the values originally came from the people. The management team sat around with every person and every office, talked to them about it, and that created the values. That was many years ago, and the company really lives by that. We recognise people regularly with the quarterly values awards, which are given to staff for living the Healthcare Australia values.

“So the behaviours that are around those values are celebrated regularly, but importantly the awards then set behaviours that are discouraged and the behaviours that don’t really play to the values. What we did change was really getting back and focusing on the customer in the market and driving revenue through that. One of my milestones here at Healthcare Australia has been really empowering people and freeing up the culture. Previous management teams had really kept a lid on the culture, kept it quite restricted. For me, it was about releasing the potential of our people, and that has caused enormous growth. We are running at 32 per cent year-on-year growth, and we have done that the last few years.”

The growth in the healthcare sector is what has driven Healthcare Australia to be so successful over the last few years. Ultimately, though, Jason says that in the next decade the issues are going to reach chronic levels, and the company is working with governments to address that. “The single biggest challenge for healthcare is supply of healthcare workers,” Jason explains. “There are simply not enough nurses and doctors in Australia. The problem is going to get worse until about 2025, and then it is going to be absolutely chronic. That is being driven by enormous population growth in Australia. These things are combining to drive ongoing needs for healthcare, and part of that is the need for healthcare workers. That is our single biggest problem, so that is what Healthcare Australia focuses on.

“There are three solutions that we are working on constantly with both state and federal governments. The first one is just simply getting more nurses and doctors, and importantly giving them training places in the big teaching hospitals, the big public hospitals. The second is to upskill the existing workforce, and we invest a lot on that. We invest $1.2 million a year on training our workforce, upskilling them and making them better healthcare practitioners. The third solution is retention of the existing workforce, retaining them in the industry and, importantly, trying to redirect them when they decide to retire, trying to keep them working. Healthcare is a really aged workforce: currently, the average age of nurses in Australia is 54 years. It is a really aged workforce, so nurses are retiring in quite big numbers and that is a problem.”

Moving forward, Jason says, the business will continue to grow and expand as the industry grows and expands also. Ultimately, healthcare in Australia will be a challenge in the future, but also an enormous opportunity for companies like Healthcare Australia. “Currently, we are centred on supercharged growth. As the healthcare sector grows, so will we, and that is both organic growth and growth via acquisition.

“We will continue to grow at around 20 to 35 per cent a year for probably the next three to five years. We’re looking at organic growth by continuing to expand on the current service offering, and then we will also be looking at some strategic acquisitions to enhance what we do. Another area we’re looking at is education training: there is clearly an opportunity to expand into that market, providing clinical healthcare, then deployment into a job. We would also like to expand into broadening the healthcare provision that we already offer—for example, going into direct healthcare provision in corporate health and homecare. It is a very exciting time to be in healthcare, an industry that employs one in every eight Aussie workers.”