Doctor too big for NZ

22:45, May 10 2009

Timaru Hospital could miss out on recruiting a desperately needed senior doctor after Immigration New Zealand ruled he is overweight.

The Timaru Herald understands the doctor, who is highly respected in his field, has been declined a visa because he has failed a health screening because of his size and in spite of his undoubted medical skills.

Immigration New Zealand appears concerned at what cost the overweight doctor might have on the health system, something he was coming to the country to help with.

The Timaru hospital often has difficulty recruiting highly specialised staff and has to rely on locums. The case has sparked condemnation amongst health staff.

He is understood to have been keen to come to Timaru and is believed to have pushed ahead with arrangements including booking flights and arranging for his family to move.

South Canterbury District Health Board chief executive Chris Fleming declined to comment and Immigration New Zealand said it could not discuss the case.


Mr Fleming would comment once the case had reached a final outcome.

Immigration New Zealand spokesman Rowan Saker said they could not comment on individual cases without a waiver from the person concerned.

Their policy on health standards however has the Body Mass Index (BMI) set at 35, which the doctor is believed to have failed. BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to both adult men and women.

For a New Zealand European, a BMI score of 25 is considered overweight, 30 obese and 40 morbidly obese.

Immigration New Zealand policy states applicants for residence visas and permits must have an acceptable standard of health unless they have been granted a medical waiver.

Mr Saker said it was important to note that obesity would not in itself cause an applicant to fail health screening requirements, and that all migrants to New Zealand must have an acceptable standard of health to minimise costs and demands on New Zealand's health services.

"What may lead to an application being declined are the co-morbidity factors that is, on the assessment of a medical assessor, the likelihood of diabetes mellitus, hypertension, coronary artery disease, and joint problems are likely to result in an adverse assessment because these are indications of future high-cost, and high-need complications."

The Herald understands the South Canterbury Health Board is helping the doctor with an appeal in the hope Immigration New Zealand review board will overturn the decision but it maybe a tough fight.

In a second case revealed this week, a British nurse who weighed 134kg was refused New Zealand residency because of her morbid obesity, and despite the need for skilled nursing staff.

The 51-year-old, who was offered a job in a home and hospital for the elderly in another provincial city, met the qualifications for immigration under the skilled migrant category.

But her body mass index of 55.2 was considered unacceptable by the immigration service which declined her application, despite nursing being on a long-term skill shortage list.

Now the Residence Review Board has dismissed her appeal.

The woman, whose waist measured 131cm, wanted to emigrate with her crane driver husband and daughter, who has a degree, after holidaying in New Zealand in 2007.

Medical assessors said the woman would probably cost the country $25,000 over four years in health treatment.

She argued that she was physically fit, there was no history of cancer or chronic diseases in her family, and her weight did not stop her working more than 60 hours a week.

A medical assessor said that apart from her morbid obesity, she was an otherwise "well lady" and could be reconsidered for immigration if she reduced her BMI to under 40.

The Timaru Herald