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Cunliffe says no crisis but pays $93m on locums

Hon Tony Ryall MP National Party Health spokesman

4 May 2008 <>

Docs strike: Cunliffe says no crisis but pays $93m on locums

The thousands of patients missing treatment through this week's junior doctor strike can blame the Health Minister for their cancelled operations and specialist appointments, says National Party Health spokesman Tony Ryall.

"David Cunliffe has been sitting on his hands, denying there's a problem, yet he's been paying close to $100 million to fill huge gaps in the hospital workforce. He needs to fix the strike or fix the system.

"And all the while, innocent patients are bearing the brunt of his neglect.

"This Minister is failing to deal with the root cause of this endless conflict with junior doctors - the health workforce crisis right across the country.

"On one hand, David Cunliffe says there is no workforce crisis, but on the other, he paid $93 million last year for junior and senior doctor locums to fill a huge number of vacancies.

"He needs to realise that hospitals don't need locums if they have enough staff. You can't run a decent health system on temporary staffing."

Information from the Ministry of Health shows that DHBs last year paid $93 million for locum doctors to fill vacancies, almost double the $48 million paid in calendar year 2002.

It is expected this figure will blow out to more than $100 million this financial year. Locum use has more than trebled, for example, at Wairarapa DHB, the home of the DHBs' lead adviser on workforce issues. Locum use has more than doubled at half the country's hospitals.

"There are huge staff shortages - from midwives, to mental health, to GPs, to hospital doctors - yet Mr Cunliffe and his failed predecessors have done nothing other than call for more reports and more committees."

National's health discussion paper, 'Better, Sooner, More Convenient', proposes a number of measures to start tackling the health workforce crisis. They include moving to medical training self-sufficiency, investigating bonding and student-loan write-offs for health professionals working in hard-to-staff areas, lowering personal taxes, and re-engaging doctors and nurses in the running of the health.

ENDS

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