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NZMA calls for urgent workforce action

NZMA calls for urgent workforce action

A Medical Council survey released this week highlights the urgent need for action to prevent a crisis in the New Zealand medical workforce.

Among other things, the survey reveals:

* Fewer New Zealand-trained medical graduates are staying in New Zealand. * Limited growth in the number of general practitioners over the last three years. * Relatively low retention rates for new vocational registrants in some branches of medicine, including psychological medicine and psychiatry, emergency medicine and pathology.

"The survey confirms our fears about a 'brain drain' of medical professionals out of New Zealand," said NZMA Chairman Dr Pippa MacKay. "Not only is New Zealand a thriving exporter of wine, fashion and other high quality, highly sought-after goods, but of doctors as well.

"High student debt not only encourages newly-graduated doctors to work overseas, for those who remain it affects their choice of specialty. Hospitals struggle to attract registrars in many areas. Rural and regional areas are hit particularly hard by shortages.

"For resident medical officers, low pay, excessive hours, unreasonable conditions, and the increasing need to cover staff shortfalls, now combined with high student debts, are all good reasons to start looking overseas."

A recent study of Auckland Medical School students found that the median projected debt on graduation was $60,000 to $69,999. Nearly one in ten students expected debts of more than $100,000. An earlier survey of the intentions of 6th year Otago medical students, found that 30 percent said they were considering moving overseas as soon as they finished training, while only one third said they were committed to working in New Zealand long-term.

"Doctors have always done their 'OE', but the trend now is for them to leave earlier and stay longer -- for those who actually intend to return. This makes no economic sense as the largest proportion of doctors' education is paid for by the taxpayer," Dr MacKay said.

"We acknowledge that there is a global market for health professionals, and that New Zealanders are very highly regarded. Other countries, such as Britain and Canada, also face doctor shortages and are prepared to pay highly to attract staff."

The Government has announced the establishment of a Health Workforce Advisory Committee, and its membership is expected to be announced this month.

"This Committee needs to find solutions to some of the serious problems facing New Zealand's health workforce. Given the magnitude of the problem, the inevitably disparate membership of the committee, and the paucity of funding provided, it will face a difficult task. In the meantime, there has been no specific funding to provide urgently needed support for the health workforce, such as to help medical students, address the shortage of junior doctors in our hospitals, and stop the exodus of New Zealand-trained doctors overseas."

The NZMA has strongly urged the Government to take responsibility for this issue. It is a national problem, and not just one for underfunded District Health Boards.

"If the Government cannot afford to match international salaries, it must work with the medical profession to find practical and innovative ways to solve the problems. Our health system and our patients deserve the very best that we can contribute," Dr MacKay concluded.


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