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Workforce Data Shows Physician Shortages Across Aotearoa New Zealand

Workforce data shows concerning shortages of physicians across Aotearoa New Zealand. The Royal Australasian College of Physicians is calling for leaders across the political spectrum to address serious workforce challenges, including a focus on a more representative workforce.

The data reveals:

New Zealand has fewer specialists per head of population in New Zealand than Australia, with only 71 physicians for every 100,000 people compared to 99 per 100,000 in Australia. Only 0.6% of physicians work in rural areas in New Zealand.

This is an issue that begins with our comparatively low medical graduate rates. We only have 10.4 graduates per 100,000 people, compared to 14 in Australia.

Our workforce is also not representative of our population. In 2022, only 4.6% of doctors identified as Māori despite making up 16.5% of the population, and 2.2% identified as Pasifika despite making up 8.1% of the population.

The College has also identified a range of ‘specialist deserts’ where communities have little to no access to key specialists in their area. These include:

The West Coast region has only one physician, and no paediatricians. This means for some communities in the West Coast, such as Greymouth and Hokitika, the nearest paediatrician could be over 100km away.

Outside of Canterbury and Otago, the South Island only has 102 physicians for 342,000 people. This is less than 30 physicians per 100,000 people.

The RACP is calling for the Aotearoa New Zealand Government, and all political parties, to commit to a comprehensive, integrated pipeline approach to recruiting students into medical and healthcare career pathways, especially for Māori and Pasifika students. This needs to extend from secondary through to tertiary and post-graduate training contexts.

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The call is one of several asks in the RACP’s Aotearoa New Zealand election statement, which calls for the government to commit to #HealHealhealthcare, and commit to ensuring our health workforce is planned, trained, and retained.

RACP Aotearoa New Zealand President Dr Stephen Inns says “The latest data shows that we’re facing serious workforce challenges and it is unfortunately our patients that feel this in reduced access to specialist care.

“We’ve identified several communities who have no access to physician care within 100kms. This can’t go on any longer.

“Unfortunately, members have told us that potential trainees are often leaving Aotearoa New Zealand before they even start their training – and this could be due to the limited amount of training locations and opportunities here.

“We’re calling for all political parties to invest in training pipelines that would both increase the number of specialists in Aotearoa, and also address inequities of physician access, including for Māori, Pasifika and those in rural communities.”

The RACP’s Aotearoa New Zealand Election Statement #HealHealthcare also calls for:

More comprehensive data reporting, with a funded health workforce data platform, on healthcare need and capacity – there is a clear lack of key workforce data which impacts our ability to adequately respond to present and future healthcare need. This data will inform discussions with community and professionals to understand how to meet the healthcare needs of our diverse communities.

Greater investment in the Māori and Pasifika health workforce, including increased funding for Māori- and Pasifika-specific training programmes and improved cultural safety in our health system.

Support, planning and funding for digital solutions, including telehealth, across the motu – especially for rural communities. These solutions need to be accessible to everyone, culturally safe and address data security.

Health workforce burnout to be urgently addressed - through improved working conditions with greater flexibility, increased workforce capacity and culturally safe working environments.

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