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Address to Overseas Doctors’ Association

Hon Annette King
Speech Notes
SATURDAY, JUNE 15
Address to Overseas Doctors’ Association

Thank you for inviting me to speak today.

It is an ideal opportunity for us to celebrate the success of all the overseas doctors who have passed the New Zealand General Registration Exam under the bridging programme this Government funded two years ago.

One of the things I really wanted to do when I became Minister of Health was to right the injustice for hundreds of overseas doctors who came to New Zealand under our immigration rules in the early 1990s, believing that they could practice medicine when they got here.

What happened to them instead is well known. Instead of working as doctors, they found themselves doing jobs like driving taxis or other occupations that failed to recognize the valuable skills they had to offer this country.

That all happened because the previous government granted these doctors residency in New Zealand based on their professional qualifications, but did not tell them about the registration examinations they would have to sit before they could work here.

It was an extraordinary situation. It couldn’t be blamed on loopholes in our immigration rules, but simply had its genesis in the muddled thinking of the government of the time.

No one seemed quite sure how many overseas-trained doctors came into the country between November 1991 and October 1995 when the problem existed, but even the hundreds who want to take part in this Government’s bridging programme probably only reflect a portion of the total number.

In 2000 I announced we would provide $11.8 million over three years for our bridging programme to resurrect the careers of these doctors who had been granted residency between the relevant dates.

The aim of the programme, as you all well know, was to enable these doctors to meet the New Zealand Medical Council's requirements so they could finally be registered to practice medicine here.

We committed the money because it was a win-win situation both for the overseas trained doctors and the New Zealand health system.

And now we can start talking about the first winners, in fact.

The bridging programme, developed by the Ministry of Health together with your organisation, the Medical Council, hospitals and medical schools, was designed initially to train up to 250 doctors over the three years in five intakes of 50 each.

The course involves four and a half months of academic work followed by six months of clinical work - and focuses on the most important knowledge and skills needed for a doctor to practice safely and competently in New Zealand.

The first intake has now completed the Medical Council's clinical examination, NZREX, and I am absolutely delighted that of the 43 who completed the course, 27 doctors, or 62.8 percent, have been successful.

This is genuinely exciting news. As well, another group of 22 overseas-trained doctors have been successful in passing NZREX. These are doctors who did not need to go through the bridging programme, because they have already passed the US Medical Licensing Exam and have competence in English.

Those who have now passed NZREX will be granted probationary registration to practice medicine in New Zealand under supervision for one year.

In general terms, I could not be more pleased with the initial outcome.
All those associated with developing the programme feel the same way, and I am sure the doctors themselves are particularly happy.

Doctors in the second intake are in their internship portion of the bridging programme (clinical six months) and the third intake is coming to the end of the academic portion.

The fourth intake will start the programme in July and the fifth intake begins in February next year.

The Clinical Training Agency has started evaluating the bridging programme, with questionnaires sent to participants of the first intake, universities, and hospitals.

I have not been sent a questionnaire myself, but you may remember that I said a few minutes ago that I could not be more pleased in general terms.

So if I were asked specific questions in a questionnaire, I would have at least one important observation to make about the future.

It concerns the fact that most participants in the programme wish to have their clinical placements in Auckland. There has been difficulty in filling placements on offer in the South Island. That disappoints me.

I am aware that the current programme has a Deed of Bond that all participants sign before being accepted on to the programme. The Deed binds them to work in New Zealand for at least one year after general registration and starting within six months.

I believe that any future scheme could have the Deed of Bond altered to stipulate employment in a rural area - in light of this Government’s determination to strengthen and reinvigorate rural health services.

There are more vacancies and opportunities for work in rural and provincial areas, and graduates of the programme will find it easier to get jobs there.

I also believe they will find jobs there that are highly satisfying. Overseas-trained doctors have been amongst our most successful and durable rural GPs. It is my hope that a good proportion of the class of 1991-95 eventually finds their destiny in rural practice.

That issue aside, I want to reiterate how pleased I am to see, in some cases 10 years after the arrival of the doctors, some happy results emerging from a sorry situation.

Your association has been pivotal in helping to bring about this happy outcome, along with your partners in developing the programme this Government is funding.

Thank you for your help. I look forward to continuing to work with you.

ENDS

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