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Medical student numbers to rise by 40 per year

Medical student numbers to rise by 40 per year

Health Minister Annette King says New Zealand's medical practitioner workforce will be significantly boosted following today's announcement that the cap on funded medical students will increase from 285 full-time students to 325 per year.

Ms King said at today’s Health Workforce Advisory Committee (HWAC) summit in Wellington that Tertiary Education Minister Steve Maharey had agreed to the increased cap, coming into effect next year.

The HWAC summit, being attended by 150 delegates from across the health sector over the next two days, is designed to flesh out a long-term strategic plan for health workforce development in New Zealand.

Ms King said the extra 40 full-time medical students would be shared equally between Otago and Auckland Universities.

“The Government would like to see an emphasis with the extra students on General Practice and Mental Health, two areas in which we need more people as we implement the Primary Health Care Strategy, and continue implementing the Mental Health Commission’s Blueprint,” said Ms King.

“We will be working with the universities, the College of GPs, the College of Psychiatrists and others on trying to promote this emphasis. Our problem at the moment often comes down to where doctors practice. There is an uneven distribution, with low numbers of GPs in rural and in some poorer urban areas.

“There is no doubt New Zealand will need more doctors in the future. The increase is also designed to help address pressures on the health system, such as greater demands on health services from an ageing population, increased public expectations, and a greater emphasis on population health and preventative health.”

Ms King said raising the cap is a medium-term strategy, which is consistent with steps taken in Canada, the UK and Australia. "It is hoped that raising the cap will result in greater numbers of graduates, and that it will complement other strategies including better access to GP locum services, improved rosters, and rural workforce retention funding.”

The enrolment cap had not changed since 1981, Ms King said. “The increase will cost the Government about $4.8m per annum when it is fully implemented.”

Ms King thanked HWAC, the medical schools, the Medical Council and the Ministry of Health for their advocacy on the issue.

“I am pleased that the HWAC summit is over-subscribed,” said Ms King. “I cannot over-emphasise the importance of a collaborative approach across the whole health sector to find the best ways of building the quality health workforce that we need. After a decade of neglect we are now actually doing something. It’s clear that the health sector has been waiting a long time for this to happen.”

Ms King said the summit would be discussing themes from HWAC’s discussion document, Framing Future Directions that was released last October. The themes include teamwork within primary healthcare, effective clinical consultation within hospitals, and collaboration between the health and education sectors.

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