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Patients suffer while workforce shortages are ignored

Turning away patients with serious and painful gynaecological conditions is the sad legacy of successive governments’ collective failure to address the crisis in specialist staffing, Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) Executive Director Ian Powell says.

Mr Powell was commenting on a Morning Report item about Counties Manukau District Health Board not treating incontinence and endometriosis, among other conditions classified as non-urgent because the DHB is too busy (

“That the District Health Board is forced to code serious life-disrupting conditions as non-urgent, thereby restricting access to all but the most ill patients, is a shocking indictment on the health system,” Mr Powell says.

“Counties Manukau DHB and its staff are not to blame. They are not responsible for the reckless dereliction of duty by those charged with making decisions that ultimately determine the health of the workforce and the care provided to the public.

“Health Minister David Clark inherited a dire situation. He is fond of telling us there is no silver bullet to fix workforce shortages. However, beyond stating the obvious, the Minister has no plan, and appears to have little sense of purpose or direction.

Gynaecology isn’t the only department at Counties Manukau DHB with restricted access, and similar access restrictions are in place around the country, Mr Powell says.

ASMS surveyed Heads of Department at Counties Manukau DHB in 2016 and 2017 to determine the adequacy of specialist staffing. Of the respondents, 94% said they did not have enough specialists in their service. Respondents estimated the DHB needed an additional 44.7 full-time equivalent specialists, which was 18% of the specialist workforce staffing allocation at the time.

Mr Powell said specialist shortages are a major factor in the shocking 50% national burnout rate among hospital specialists.

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