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Shortages of public health workers poses risk

Thursday, 15 January 2004

Shortages of public health workers poses risk to health gains Shortages of public health workers such as health protection officers, health promoters and public health physicians pose a risk to New Zealand making significant improvements in health, according to the Public Health Association.

Association spokesperson Dr Fran McGrath says there is concern about the exodus of GPs and hospital doctors seeking better conditions overseas but training and retention of public health workers is also failing to keep pace with the numbers needed for public health and for the new Primary Health Organisations.

"The success of the new PHOs is reliant on New Zealand having enough public health workers skilled in looking at what is needed in each community. These workers must be able to assess needs and engage with communities and local health professionals so PHOs can make a real difference for everyone, particularly for Maori, Pacific peoples and people on low incomes."

Shortages are also important because health protection officers and environmental health officers perform essential roles such as carrying our border surveillance for insect pests, infectious diseases, and pollution control, Dr McGath says. She points out the report The New Zealand Health Workforce says the New Zealand health system will be vulnerable, especially if it neglects specialist public health workers.

"New Zealand has not invested enough in public health to meet the challenges facing the health system. For example we have steady increases in admissions to hospital that could be prevented by effective primary health and public health initiatives."

Shortages of Maori health protection officers are particularly acute although efforts are being made to address this across the country, Dr McGrath says. She congratulates Waikato DHB for the Maori health protection scholarship they are offering, and says New Zealand needs to multiple those sorts of creative approaches.

The Public Health Association says workforce planning should be planned nationally and implemented regionally so the new primary health organization and DHBs can effectively implement the Government's Primary Health Care Strategy.

ENDS

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