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Misleading Claims on Public Hospital Doctor Numbers

Misleading Claims on Public Hospital Doctor Numbers

Hospital Doctor Number Misrepresentations in Vote Health Estimate Debate

On the evening of Tuesday 30 July Parliament debated the Vote Health Estimates. Five MPs participated in the debate – Annette King, Kevin Hague and Barbara Stewart from the opposition parties and Paul Hutchinson and Jian Yang from the government.

During the debate the latter two MPs sadly repeated the deliberately misleading claim of 1,000 extra hospital doctors in DHBs since the National-led government took office in late 2008. The context of this claim is important to understand. In opposition, the Hon Tony Ryall asserted that there was a specialist workforce crisis in DHBs. As Health Minister he continued to articulate this in meetings with the ASMS and in public as late as October 2010. It was his number one priority. In November 2010 the DHBs and ASMS agreed with the Minister that the crisis remained in a joint publication Securing a Sustainable Senior Medical and Dental Officer Workforce in New Zealand: the Business Case.

Suddenly, in election year 2011, the assessment changed without any explanation as to why. Instead the political spin was that we were having record increases in the number of hospital doctors and now it is claimed that there are over 1,000 extra hospital doctors in DHBs since the National led government took office.

But this is a political spin cover-up achieved by both fudging the data on resident medical officers (RMOs) and then using unreliable RMO figures [at the beginning of the four year period a large number of RMOs, mainly in the wider Auckland region, were employed as contractor locums, coded as ‘casuals’ and, as a result, not counted as employed hospital doctors; by the middle of this four year period this form of employment had been drastically reduced and they were counted as employees].

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Source: DHB Salary Survey Data (2004-2012)

According to DHB data the number of specialists increased by 514 (129 per annum) in the four years from 2008 to 2012 (using a 1 July date). In the previous four years (2004-08) they had increased by 703 (178 per annum. This declining trend (27.5% decline in the rate of increase from the four years to 2008 to the four years after) should also be seen in light of the joint assessment in 2010 by the ASMS and DHBs that the number of specialists needed to increase by over 200 per annum.

Source: DHB Salary Survey Data (2004-2012)

Specialist shortages in public hospitals have become the entrenched norm. Specialists are overworked and overstretched while at the same time they are hit by the combination of demographic changes (aging population), high public expectations and increased government demands.

Knowingly using misleading data to cover up this unacceptably risky situation is disrespectful of public hospital specialists and irresponsible towards the public. It is contributing to increasing resentment and anger among a growing number of senior public hospital doctors. We need leadership, not spin.

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