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Whanganui and Tairawhiti DHBs carry specialist shortfalls

Staffing surveys carried out by the senior doctors’ union estimate specialist numbers at two smaller North Island DHBs are well down on what’s needed to provide quality and timely treatment for patients.

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists has been looking at senior doctor staffing levels across DHBs since 2016 by surveying clinical leaders in hospital departments.

At Tairawhiti DHB the shortfall of specialists is estimated at around 25% or eleven full-time positions, while at Whanganui DHB that figure is slightly lower at around 24% or ten positions.

Despite that only about three positions at Whanganui and five at Tairawhiti were listed as officially vacant at the time of the surveys.

“Having low vacancy rates helps DHBs gloss over the seriousness of the shortages,” says ASMS Executive Director Ian Powell.

He says such shortages are becoming dangerously entrenched.

“They put immense strain on the health system and mean specialists are having to juggle patient care around them. That impacts on waiting lists and the ability of DHBs to guarantee patients will see a specialist within a reasonable timeframe”.

Whanganui DHB is the tenth to be surveyed since 2016, and Tairawhiti the eleventh.

The current national average staffing shortfall to date is estimated at around 24%. The other nine DHB survey revealed shortages ranging from 17-36%.

“To date our surveys have been of medium to large DHBs. The results at Whanganui and Tairawhiti are not inconsistent with the other DHBs, but the impact can be disproportionately harsher on small DHB senior medical workforces,” Mr Powell says.

“Especially in small DHBs such as Tairawhiti and Whanganui these shortages can make it extra difficult to take time for professional development and maintenance of skills as well as sick or annual leave.”

Full survey results are available: Tairawhiti DHB and Whanganui DHB

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