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Waiting lists, workforce shortages key to health

Monday, 15 August 2005

UF: Waiting lists, workforce shortages key health issues

Surgery waiting times and health workforce shortages are the biggest challenges facing the health sector, and United Future revealed strategies to address both in launching its health policy today.

"Too many people are waiting too long for surgery, and the Government's reclassifying sick people and sending them back to their GPs on 'active review' lists is frankly completely bogus and everyone knows it," United Future deputy leader and health spokeswoman Judy Turner said.

"Leaving people waiting indefinitely and often in substantial pain with no certainty of treatment, is no solution at all," she said.

United Future will set up a contestable fund so both public and private health providers can tender to perform operations.

"This will tackle the surgery backlogs and would see waiting lists pared back so that DHBs can start to manage them in a sustainable way.

"Frankly, it's a scandal that we have unused surgical capacity in this country and waiting lists. It's a disgrace based on Labour's ideological rigidity, and United Future will fix it," she said.

"Counties-Manukau DHB recently used private hospitals to clear 1600 operations over a three-month period to clear an elective surgery backlog. If it had left it all to the public system, 4000 patients would have been cut from waiting lists.

Such backlogs are also due to staff shortages - another issue United Future policy addresses as a top priority.

The Health Workforce Advisory Committee has recently reported that even conservative estimates show that future demand for health professionals will exceed supply.

"We are short of 1440 GPs and their numbers declined at a rate of 8% from 2002 to 2004, while nearly one-third of nurses working for DHBs intend to leave in the next year," Mr Dunne said. "Without adequate numbers of well-trained doctors, nurses, surgeons, specialists and other members of the health workforce, waiting times for surgery will grow longer and having access to a local GP will become much more difficult."

The Labour Government has only tinkered with this problem and has failed to provide the leadership needed to confront and manage major change, Mrs Turner said.

"It's quite incredible that the Health Ministry hasn't even established targets for the numbers of health professionals we need.

The answer is clearly to train more health professionals and keep them here, and to this end, United Future will:

* Cut tuition fees for those studying medicine and nursing.
* Provide scholarships and student loan write-offs to bond graduates in fields facing shortages into a period of service in New Zealand following graduation.
* Ensure that the Ministry of Health takes effective responsibility for designing and implementing a national workforce development strategy.
* Focus on providing first class working conditions for health professionals as the key to recruitment and development, through the accreditation of workplaces such as the American "magnet" hospital status.
* Support rural health services by increasing financial incentives for rural GPs, introducing Rural Nurse Practitioners, and by establishing appropriate practitioner to patient ratios that will reduce the risk of burnout.
* Establish a nursing staffing ratio and support pay parity between nursing staff at DHBs and those in the primary care sector.
* Introduce a sabbatical scheme that would allow health professionals to take a year out of work every five years.
* Improve the system by which overseas medical qualifications are approved, to ensure that migrant health professionals can participate in New Zealand's health system as soon as practicable.
* Embark on a pro-active overseas recruitment campaign, and develop the concept of bonded "working holidays" for health professionals.

"In the end, this is about not leaving the health care of New Zealanders to chance. It needs to be treated seriously," Mrs Turner said.


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