PURPOSE: Studies of high-performing organisations have consistently reported a positive relationship between high performance work systems (HPWS) and performance outcomes. Although many of these studies have been conducted in manufacturing, similar findings of a positive correlation between aspects of HPWS and improved care delivery and patient outcomes have been reported in international health care studies. The purpose of this paper is to bring together the results from a series of studies conducted within Australian health care organisations. First, the authors seek to demonstrate the link found between high performance work systems and organisational performance, including the perceived quality of patient care. Second, the paper aims to show that the hospitals studied do not have the necessary aspects of HPWS in place and that there has been little consideration of HPWS in health system reform. DESIGN/METHODOLOGY/APPROACH: The paper draws on a series of correlation studies using survey data from hospitals in Australia, supplemented by qualitative data collection and analysis. To demonstrate the link between HPWS and perceived quality of care delivery the authors conducted regression analysis with tests of mediation and moderation to analyse survey responses of 201 nurses in a large regional Australian health service and explored HRM and HPWS in detail in three casestudy organisations. To achieve the second aim, the authors surveyed human resource and other senior managers in all Victorian health sector organisations and reviewed policy documents related to health system reform planned for Australia. FINDINGS: The findings suggest that there is a relationship between HPWS and the perceived quality of care that is mediated by human resource management (HRM) outcomes, such as psychological empowerment. It is also found that health care organisations in Australia generally do not have the necessary aspects of HPWS in place, creating a policy and practice gap. Although the chief executive officers of health service organisations reported high levels of strategic HRM, the human resource and other managers reported a distinct lack of HPWS from their perspectives. The authors discuss why health care organisations may have difficulty in achieving HPWS. ORIGINALITY/VALUE: Leaders in health care organisations should focus on ensuring human resource management systems, structures and processes that support HPWS. Policy makers need to consider HPWS as a necessary component of health system reform. There is a strong need to reorient organisational human resource management policies and procedures in public health care organisations towards high performing work systems.