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Shoring Up And Future Proofing NZ’s Specialist Workforce Is Beyond Urgent

A report out today from the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists warns urgent, co-ordinated action is needed to tackle staffing shortages and future proof the specialist workforce, or New Zealanders will increasingly miss out on the specialist care they need.

The report - Building the Workforce Pipeline, Stopping the Drain is being launched at the ASMS Annual Conference in Wellington.

ASMS research shows an average 24% shortage of specialists in our public hospitals. It results in high levels of burnout and stress, along with a lack of non-clinical time and time to teach junior doctors.

“Ask our members what is the one thing that would most improve their working lives and improve patient care and they consistently say more staff,” says ASMS Executive Director Sarah Dalton.

“We know that stretched specialist services mean thousands of New Zealanders are missing out on treatment. Mental health, oncology, and neurology are three areas of significant under-supply, but we could name so many more”.

The shortages are compounded by an ageing workforce (the largest number of specialists fall in the 55-59-year age bracket). New Zealand also relies heavily on overseas-trained doctors. They make up 43% of the specialist workforce (the second highest in the OECD) but often do not stay long-term.

Sarah Dalton says, “all up it can take 12-18 years to train a specialist, so we need solutions to start flowing into the pipeline and we need them now”.

“Unfortunately, workforce development and planning has historically been fragmented and there is very little data. We need properly funded, centralised co-ordination and oversight”.

Among the report’s recommendations are for universities to increase the annual intake of medical students, and for the Ministry of Health and the Government to develop a Health and Disability Workforce Plan to provide targets for medical training and progression, and address equity and diversity in the medical workforce.

There is also a recommendation for DHBs and medical colleges to offer more flexible working arrangements for both medical trainees and specialists looking to retire.

Sarah Dalton says without action specialist numbers and supply will continue to be outpaced by population growth and the health needs of Aotearoa.

She adds that the Covid pandemic has added further uncertainty.

“We don’t know how easy or hard it will be to bring senior doctors to New Zealand, and we are already seeing disruption to the Australasian training pipeline, not to mention further afield. What this will mean to the current medical workforce in training, we can only speculate”.

The report will be discussed by a panel at the Annual Conference – see programme here. The Conference is also being livestreamed – you can watch Day 1 and Day 2

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