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More action needed for workforce

More action needed for workforce

Urgent action is needed to ensure that New Zealand has sufficient doctors in the future, says New Zealand Medical Association Chairman Dr Tricia Briscoe.

As well as doctors being lured across the Tasman by high salaries (as reported extensively in the media this week), a number of other countries are actively recruiting here, including Britain and Canada.

Dr Briscoe said a two-pronged approach was necessary: “We must make it more attractive for New Zealand-trained medical graduates to stay in New Zealand, and we must also ensure we have sufficient doctors in the future. While we acknowledge the work the Government is doing in these areas, there needs to be more specific and timely action to support the medical workforce.

“High medical student debt is the number one issue facing our young medical graduates. This is pushing our graduates overseas where they will earn more money. While New Zealand doctors have always gained overseas experience, our concern now is that they have little incentive to come back.” The recently introduced Step Up scheme (which will allow some medical students to avoid high debt levels) is an important initiative, as was the decision to increase medical school numbers, but more is needed.

Dr Briscoe said District Health Boards, which employ medical graduates, must have the funding available to offer incentives to attract and retain doctors in areas of shortage.

It was also vital that increased subsidies for General Practice services are rapidly extended to all areas of New Zealand. At present, only some regions are eligible for the increased funding, which has led to inequities and uncertainty for many GPs. Dr Briscoe said the morale of the GP workforce is very low, and GPs need certainty about the viability of their practices.

To ensure sufficient doctors long-term, Dr Briscoe said consideration should be given to a further increase in places at medical schools for New Zealand students, but these must be supported by more funding for post-graduate training.

A comprehensive policy was also needed around the recruitment of overseas-trained doctors. By international standards, New Zealand has a very high proportion of doctors who were initially trained overseas.

“New Zealand needs these doctors and we continue to welcome them, but they should not just be a substitute for our own New Zealand-trained doctors who are leaving. It costs the New Zealand taxpayer a lot of money to train our doctors, let’s ensure we keep more of them here.”

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