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Govt lid on health students main reason for crisis

Media Release

17 December 2008

Government lid on health student numbers main reason for health workforce crisis

According to Professor Max Abbott, Dean of AUT University's Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences, today's Morning Report item on the health workforce crisis missed the point. He said the main reason for the staff shortfall is that New Zealand is not producing enough health graduates to keep up with expanding and changing health service needs.

Professor Abbott said that in the past lack of interest on the part of students and insufficient training places in District Health Boards constrained growth. He said that while still partially relevant in some areas, there were now plenty of people wanting to become health professionals but most had to be turned away because the Tertiary Education Commission has placed a lid on student numbers.

Professor Abbott, who is also deputy chair of Waitemata District Health Board, confirmed that the health sector faces major staff shortages across the spectrum of health professions. He said Department of Labour statistics highlighted large shortfalls in medicine, psychology, pharmacy, dental therapy, nursing, midwifery, physiotherapy and occupational therapy. He said there were also shortfalls in some smaller groups such as podiatry, radiation therapy and radiology that Department reports did not pick up.

"Unless decisive action is taken the present crisis will deepen and the problems such as those pointed to by the Health and Disability Commissioner today will greatly increase. The Commissioner criticised hospitals for running emergency departments with too few staff."

"While a number of factors are involved and some positive initiatives are planned or underway, the main problem is the cap on the number of health science students."

"I found it very distressing to have to turn hundreds of able students away last year from areas where the Ministry of Health identified major problems. This includes Midwifery and Oral Health. We have very limited capacity to increase intakes for next year, despite huge staffing shortages in these areas.

Professor Abbott said "it is great that District Health Boards are now working with universities to encourage high school students to consider health careers and have established scholarship programmes. The new government's scheme to repay part of student loans for graduates who stay in New Zealand should also help. However, if we don't have more student places these measures on their own will have limited impact."


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