The federal department responsible for leading the national response to the COVID-19 crisis has been one of the hardest hit by job cuts, official figures reveal.
Figures from the Australian Public Service show the Health Department's staffing fell by 333 in 2019, the third consecutive year its workforce has decreased.
The department said it shed more than 140 staff and moved nearly 190 other public servants to another agency under a machinery of government change restructuring the bureaucracy.
Health Department job losses last year followed a round of downsizing in 2016-2017, when 273 staff left through voluntary redundancies.
Public service commission figures show the Health Department, which has a national workforce of nearly 4200, was among APS agencies that shrank the most last year.
The department shed 95 staff through voluntary redundancies and lost another 49 positions as employees who decided to leave the organisation were not replaced.
When asked which sections of the Health Department lost jobs, a spokesperson said the staffing reductions had occurred across the workforce.
"The majority of voluntary redundancies were due to departmental restructuring," the spokesperson said.
"Staffing levels in the department will shift over time for a number of reasons, including due to machinery of government changes, fluctuations in program activity over years, decisions of government and streamlining of activities.
"A mix of ongoing and temporary staff, supplemented by contractors when required is key to effectively managing a department of this size."
Nearly 190 department staff moved to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission in 2019 through a machinery of government change.
The Health Department has played a central role in the national response to COVID-19, advising the public and the federal government, and working with the health and medical sector.
It has mobilised additional staff to help it run the National Incident Room, located in Canberra, in response to the pandemic.
The department said it had the staff numbers and resources needed for the tasks required of it during the coronavirus. It had not needed to activate its business continuity plans during the pandemic.
"We have created a surge workforce through various means such as using staff from other public service agencies. We also have redeployed staff across the department to the priority areas," its spokesperson said.
The Health Department also said it had the staffing and resources needed in previous years to prepare for pandemics.
"The department's Office of Health Protection works in partnership with our key stakeholders to protect the health of the Australian community through effective national leadership and coordination and building of appropriate capacity and capability to detect, prevent and respond to threats to public health and safety."
An analysis of the department's staffing numbers show they have fallen every year since 2016, the year after a machinery of government change swelled its ranks with hundreds of staff from the Social Services and Human Services departments.
Through changes including cuts and two rounds of machinery of government restructures, the Health Department's staffing has fallen from about 5200 to nearly 4200 since 2016.
The department lost hundreds of jobs in 2017 through a voluntary redundancy program responding to federal budgetary constraints.
It announced that year it would use recruitment restrictions and voluntary redundancies to reduce overall staffing numbers to an "affordable level" for 2017-18. Budget papers covering that financial year show its average staffing level fell by 300 to about 4300 positions.
Annual reports show some of the department's largest average staffing level falls since 2016 have been in the program overseeing support for public hospital services funding and access to preventive, primary and mental health care and a skilled health workforce.
The Health Department's average staff numbers also fell in a program overseeing improvements to Australia's health system by applying research, evaluation, innovation, and use of data to develop and implement health policies, and through support for health infrastructure funding.