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NZ Doctor Numbers In 'Parlous State'

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
NZ Doctor Numbers In 'Parlous State'

Wellington, Oct 11 NZPA - New Zealand is facing a doctor shortage crisis as the country continues to haemorrhage locally trained physicians in large numbers to more lucrative jobs overseas, the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) says.

It was a "pretty parlous state" and unsustainable, said ASMS executive director Ian Powell, who warned measures to address the problem were "only playing around the margins".

Twenty-nine percent of New Zealand doctors are working overseas and about 40 percent of doctors practising here have been trained elsewhere, the highest percentage in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), followed by Australia, at between 15 to 20 percent, which continues to attract many of our doctors.

The shortage was putting pressure on the existing pool, increasing the workload of those specialists remaining, forcing them to retire earlier and making it less attractive to work here, Mr Powell said.

"It's an ever-decreasing vicious circle. We are basically trapped in a vice and it requires a significant quantum leap to get out.

"We are not going to be able to make the quantum steps we need until we actually have salaries that are sufficient to keep the doctors we train."

Specialists starting out in Australia could earn a salary comparable with someone with 15 years' experience here, he said.

It was expensive to recruit internationally. Overseas-trained specialists did help but that was expensive because training systems differed, he said.

Also, a significant number that were recruited here left after two or three years.

Mr Powell said the ASMS was working on a joint business case with district health boards on the issue, which would also go to government to hopefully provide the basis for the "circuit breaker".

In August the ASMS released a paper showed that in 2008 the specialist workforce shortfall was over 600 specialists based on international benchmarks and another 1300 specialists were needed to equal Australia on a population adjusted basis.

To meet the OECD average by 2021, New Zealand would need an average net increase of 380 specialists per annum.

Meanwhile, medical clinics are paying thousands of dollars each to advertise overseas to fill vacancies.

Mark Peterson, chairman of the Medical Association's GP council, told the Dominion Post overseas publications were "chock-a-block" with advertisements for vacancies in New Zealand general practices.

The future of many clinics would remain in limbo unless the crisis could be resolved, he said.

"At the moment we are treading water but, in two to five years' time, when our ageing doctors retire, if we don't get some changes we are buggered. We can't continue to provide medical services as we are now."

"The reality is we need at least 1000 new doctors on stream to keep these medical clinics afloat and not next year or in five years. We need them overnight and now."

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