Reliance on immigrant doctors 'huge problem'
Immigrant doctors are filling more than half the new positions in New Zealand hospitals, prompting warnings that the medical system is being "propped up" by doctors who may not be suited to New Zealand's health needs.
International medical graduates make up 60 per cent of new doctors hired since 2008, with almost all senior doctors hired during that time coming from other countries.
Critics say recruiting overseas-trained staff is a waste of money and resources because many doctors stay only a couple of years, creating "churn" that puts more pressure on the hospital system - and potentially places patients at risk.
It also creates a lack of training opportunities for young New Zealand doctors, who are continuing to head overseas to work.
Health Minister Tony Ryall said work was under way to increase the percentage of New Zealand-trained doctors.
Figures released to the Green Party show that from 2008 to 2011, more than 3000 doctors working primarily in a public hospital were newly registered by the Medical Council. Of those, 1223 were Kiwi graduates and 1789 were internationally qualified doctors.
In that same time frame, the Government added 1000 new fulltime positions to its hospital roll, of which half were junior roles.
With the junior positions mainly filled by NZ graduates, the percentage of senior doctors, or specialists, being hired from overseas increased.
In total, 42 per cent of the specialist workforce is now made up of overseas doctors, meaning New Zealand has the highest dependency on international medical graduates in the OECD.
Government adviser Professor Des Gorman, executive chairman of the health workforce board, said the target ratio for overseas doctors was 15 per cent.
Green MP Kevin Hague said the figures showed no evidence the Government was anywhere near meeting that target.
"The increasing reliance on overseas-trained doctors is a massive, massive problem," Hague said.
He said the sector was getting older and smaller as doctors retired, while health needs were rising with an ageing population.
"Instead of trying to hold on to New Zealand doctors, we are being propped up by a revolving door of medical graduates who are not suited to New Zealand's particular needs."
Executive director of the association of salaried medical specialists Ian Powell said international graduates tended to stay only a few years.
"That can indirectly result in more risk to patients. More unstable staffing can mean more risks because there is more pressure on the system," Powell said.
It was also a waste financially as recruitment was expensive, and overseas-trained doctors had to be supervised for a period.
Medical students were also concerned the hiring of overseas doctors could affect them.
Gorman said: "We are continuing to increase the number of medical placements at medical school because we want more New Zealand doctors.
"New Zealand born and trained doctors are given priority by the DHBs. This is in line with international practice of giving citizens and residents priority."
Ryall said a voluntary bonding scheme for graduates was helping to "build our own capacity".
But president of the New Zealand Medical Students Association Phillip Chao said junior doctors were already struggling to find places in hospitals, and it was also difficult to enter specialist training programmes.
"Many foreign-trained doctors are taking up roles that New Zealand graduates need to complete their training."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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