Specialist doctors continue to quit New Zealand

MARIKA HILL
Last updated 14:03 30/12/2012

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Specialist doctors continue to quit New Zealand, leaving the remaining workforce under increasing pressure to shoulder the deepening crisis, the doctors' union says.

"New Zealand's newly qualified specialists are quitting practice in this country at an increasing rate," Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) executive director Ian Powell said.

His warning comes the same month the Government boasted of an extra 1000 new doctors for the country over the past four years.

However, Powell disputed these "embellished" figures and said he felt badly let down by the Government's inaction despite repeated warnings from the union.

Of the New Zealand doctors who registered in 2010, 13.5 per cent were no long practising here a year later, compared to 5.5 per cent a decade ago, according to ASMS figures.

New Zealand continually needs an extra 60 specialists per year just to play catch-up.

"Entrenched shortages means that a relatively small number of public hospital specialists have to carry on their shoulders increasing workloads," Powell said.

Oncologists, surgeons and intensive care specialists are included in an immigration list of much- needed specialist skills.

A survey by the Medical Council reported doctors were leaving for overseas work experience, higher pay and improved working conditions.

However, another big player in the medical workforce said there was no reason to fear doctor departures.

Health Workforce NZ chair Des Gorman said he encouraged doctors to leave as three in four would eventually return.

"We want doctors to go. We want them to go overseas, get training, get experience and come home."

Gorman said New Zealand had enough doctors, but there were shortages within speciality fields and rural regions.

"It's a fallacy to say you solve the problem by training more doctors. Training more and more doctors doesn't make a particular town more attractive."

Throwing money at the issue was also not the solution, he said. "Frankly, more money will not make a crap job a good job."

He said the overall exodus to Australia had actually slowed and backed the Government's latest figures showing doctor numbers increased by 1000 over four years.

Health Minister Tony Ryall said there were vacancies in some key specialties but overall the health workforce was in good shape.

"There are more doctors and more nurses employed by district health boards than at any other time."

Prime Minister John Key also waded into the debate this month, but landed himself in controversy after a graphic he tweeted to boast the increase in doctors and nurses was pilloried for showing the doctors as male and the nurses as female. Gender aside, the specialised doctors' union doesn't buy the increasing doctors figures.

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Powell said the Government was more concerned with spin than substance, including making deliberately embellished and misleading claims of increased hospital doctor numbers.

He argued the actual specialist rate per head of population was falling and was expected to worsen as many specialists approached retirement age, as the largest group of doctors is now aged between 50 and 54.

- Sunday Star Times

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