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Gaping shortage of hospital specialists in Northland

16 October 2019

A staffing survey carried out by the senior doctors’ union, the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, has found a gaping shortfall of hospital specialists at the Northland DHB.

ASMS has been looking at senior doctor staffing levels across DHBs since 2016 by surveying clinical leaders in hospital departments.

The aim is to assess how many full-time specialist positions are needed to provide quality and timely treatment for patients.

The Northland survey found an estimated staffing shortage of 36%.

“This was the ninth DHB to be surveyed and this is the most severe shortage we’ve seen so far,” says ASMS Executive Director Ian Powell.

The previous eight DHB surveys revealed shortages ranging from 17-27%.

“It means that Heads of Departments at Northland DHB estimate they need 60 more full-time specialists to provide safe and appropriate care to patients and the community,” Mr Powell says.

Despite that, at the time of the survey, there were only 26 full-time positions officially listed as vacant.

“Having such a low official vacancy rate looks like an attempt to fudge the seriousness of the shortages,” says Mr Powell.

The survey also highlighted the impact of the shortages on senior doctors, their workload, and their ability to treat patients.

· 43% indicated their senior doctors are ‘never’ or ‘rarely’ able to access the recommended level of non-clinical time (a minimum of 30% of hours worked)

· 24% said non-clinical time was accessible ‘sometimes’ and 19% said ‘often’.

· 52% felt senior doctors had insufficient time to undertake their training and education duties.

· 61% believed there was inadequate internal backup cover for short-term sick leave, annual leave, continuing medical education leave or for covering training and mentoring duties while staff were away.

· 71% considered there was inadequate access to locums or additional staff to cover for long-term leave.

Asked if the current staffing level was adequate for full use of appropriate leave-taking, as well as non-clinical time and training responsibilities, 86% responded ‘no’.
43% felt staff had adequate time to spend with patients and their families to provide good quality patient-centred care.
“This survey shows a workforce which is under immense pressure in trying to hold the public health system together and it’s not sustainable.”

“Although Northland has the highest level of specialist shortages to date in the nine DHBs surveyed, the extent of these shortages which average 24% is a national crisis. The responsibility for addressing this crisis rests with health bosses both in Government and in DHBs,” Mr Powell says.


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