Health workforce availability is measured by the numbers of health professionals in any given population area in terms of the ratio between the number of health professionals and the area population. Workforce shortages generally are identified by low ratios of professionals to population, often relative to the health status of that population, which is generally based upon basic demographics (usually age, sex and Indigenous status). Currently, available national health workforce data provides only part of the picture necessary to determine the total health workforce, where they work and where there are actual areas of shortage.

The Australian Government holds substantial data on the general practitioner workforce, limited data on the medical specialist workforce and some data on other professions where services are funded through Medicare. However, Medicare only captures data on services provided in the private sector. As an example, it would appear from Medicare data that most surgeons in Australia only work the equivalent of part-time hours. This reflects, of course, the fact that most surgeons undertake a combination of public sector and private sector work.

As well, Medicare data for GPs does not capture all activity. General practitioners also provide services under other funding arrangements, such as worker's compensation and for the Department of Veterans' Affairs. They can also have a role as a visiting medical officer in a rural or regional public sector hospital. In Queensland, in particular, there is a strong tradition of appointment of GPs to regional hospitals by Queensland Health, with those GPs also having a right to private practice as part of their employment conditions. This means that Medicare data underestimates the volume of health services provided to a community overall by rural and remote GPs compared to their urban counterparts.

Medicare data does, however, provide a reasonable indication of the relative geographical distribution of general practice services across Australia, and can be used as an indicator of distribution of specialist medical services.

Annual labour workforce surveys on the nursing and medical workforces are collated by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). These surveys provide information on the numbers registered and employed in these professions, as well as information on working hours, the sectors in which health professionals provide services and other useful information for workforce planning. These surveys are completed on a voluntary basis by health professionals at the time of registration renewal and the figures are weighted up using actual registration board numbers from each state and territory. The response rate has been declining in recent years in all jurisdictions except Victoria, which has supported mandatory reporting of these workforce statistics. The most recent reports available for these professions (using 2005 survey responses) had a response rate of 55.0% for nurses, and 71.3% for doctors. Variation in collection methodology has resulted in very low collection rates in some jurisdictions and anomalies in state level data. As such, this data should be treated as indicative rather than definitive.

Annual labour force survey data on dental practitioners is also collected. Surveying of the full dental workforce is undertaken less often.
National data has been collected on an occasional basis through the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare survey mechanism on other health professions that are registered, including pharmacists, physiotherapists and psychologists. The last of these surveys was undertaken for 2003.

A final source of national data is the Australian Census of Population and Housing. This data collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) provides a headcount and does not pick up the actual hours worked. For many health professions, such as many of the small allied health professions, it is the only national data source available. This data is somewhat of an underestimation, as the 2006 Census did not collect information on an estimated 640,000 people. This may be due to a variety of reasons, including temporary overseas migration patterns and under-enumeration by the Census.

Most, but not all states and territories, have the advantage of their own health workforce data collections based generally on payroll and vacancy rate information, with some good workforce planning being undertaken in a number. In conjunction with labour force surveys and Medicare data these jurisdictions are often able to build reasonable pictures of the medical and nursing workforce within their boundaries. However, states and territories are not able to provide data on that sector of the health workforce that is solely working in the private sector within their boundaries.

Information on the distribution of public and private hospitals and other services for which the Australian Government contributes funding, such as Aboriginal Medical Services, Multi Purpose Services and Royal Flying Doctor Services, have also been considered.