'Spiv' spat sets union boss at odds with Ryall

MICHELLE ROBINSON
Last updated 05:00 29/07/2012

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Health Minister Tony Ryall has been told to stop listening to "spivs" and start listening to professionals.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Ian Powell made the comment in a reply to an annual letter of expectations sent to the country's district health boards.

"We are disappointed you at times can be oversensitive to the issues raised by critics, while having no apparent problem in listening to spivs," he says.

"Spivs are like seagulls, they fly over, deposit everywhere, and fly off leaving others to clean up the mess."

Hospitals were struggling, he said, with stories of a lack of specialists available to train staff, and even of basic stationary purchases being denied.

The squeeze and a waste of funds are detailed in the response to Ryall from the association.

"We appreciate the serious financial challenges faced by the Government," Powell says.

"But the continuing reduction in the level of increased funding to boards is now risking serious harms."

Powell released the letter at a hospital and community dentistry conference in Napier on Friday, saying the health workforce was in crisis when between 2009-10, boards spent more than $50m on short-term specialist locums to cover vacancies.

He said a review had found up to $800 million was wasted every year on potentially preventable events in hospitals, and disputes like one over buying a $5.47 stapler - when both a service manager and clinical manager were prevented from making the purchase - were indefensible.

Earlier this year the Sunday Star-Times revealed Auckland nurses were supplying their own pens and thermometers after a budget crackdown at the end of the financial year, when the board functioned on a slim $142,000 surplus.

Ryall said the Government was doing better than most OECD countries in an area where "there is always more to do", and this month the Government injected $10 million into the sector to cover debts at the southern board.

New Zealand relied on international graduates, but was not retaining them, Powell said. Medical Council data showed a third were lost nine years after registration, and the workforce was vulnerable to migration flow, with any change having a "dramatic impact" on services.

"We have the second-highest emigration rate of doctors in the OECD. New Zealand has become a training ground for other countries, especially Australia."

Medical school intakes should have doubled from 285 in 2004 by 2015, but student debt was forcing many graduates to leave the country. Of graduates first registered in 2000, only 60 per cent held a New Zealand practising certificate a decade later.

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Powell said the sector had training issues because specialists weren't retained.

“The loss of a relatively small number of New Zealand-trained specialists represents a loss of tens of millions of dollars of Government investment."

Ryall said the Government was doing its best to invest in health workforce growth in uncertain financial times.

"The latest 2012 Health Report confirms that, in tight times, the average OECD country has had zero increases in health funding. But our increases were the third highest, at 3.4 per cent," he said.

- Sunday Star Times

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