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Research highlights hospital specialist shortage

New Zealand needs at least another 1000 medical specialists to meet our growing health needs. That is the finding of two separate assessments of New Zealand’s specialist workforce needs in a new research paper published by the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS).

In one assessment, the paper compares New Zealand’s specialist workforce capacity with other countries in respect of access to hospital specialist services and patient outcomes. The second assessment summarises findings from surveys of seven DHBs’ heads of department on estimated senior doctor staffing needs. The paper is available online here:

ASMS Director of Policy and Research, Lyndon Keene, says that on both measures – the DHB survey and international comparisons – New Zealand falls short by about 1000 specialists, around 20% of the DHB specialist workforce.

Mr Keene says while the senior medical workforce is growing, it has not increased enough to keep pace with changing patient demand and population growth.

“New Zealand has for many years been placed in the bottom group in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development rankings of specialists per capita. While international comparisons must be treated cautiously, on the available evidence the Netherlands appears to have achieved a reasonable standard of access to specialist services and relatively good health outcomes. New Zealand would have needed about 1000 more specialists to have been on par with the Netherlands in 2016,” Mr Keene says.

In the seven DHBs surveyed by the ASMS over the last two years, on average heads of departments estimated a staffing shortage of 21.8% of full-time equivalent Senior Medical Officers, which is about 1000 specialists and 100 medical and dental officers. The surveys are part of a continuing series conducted by ASMS. Department heads were asked not just about the adequacy of staffing to meet clinical needs, but also other priorities, including training, supervising, and being able to spend enough time with patients.

“Successive governments have neglected to address the problem and it has developed into a crisis. They have failed to determine and respond to the level of need in the population, and workforce planning has been woeful,” Mr Keene says.

The Research Brief is the first of a two-part examination of workforce needs. The second part will be published next month.

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