08 January 2009

2009 should be the year for finally sorting out the problems with the medical workforce, says the New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA).

"The NZMA is heartened by the way in which this Government, and the previous one have at last taken action to avert a workforce crisis," said NZMA Chair Dr Peter Foley. The New Zealand medical workforce is facing critical shortages in many areas, and relies heavily on doctors recruited from overseas.

Other factors include an increasing demand for health services, the ageing doctor workforce, doctor dissatisfaction and low morale, insufficient medical student places, student debt, GP practices closing their books to new patients, doctors leaving New Zealand, and an over-reliance on locums.

"The NZMA has long advocated that New Zealand needs to become self-sufficient in doctors, and sustainable solutions are needed. It is vital that strong leadership is shown in this area," Dr Foley said.

After many years of ignoring the problem, or debating whether there is a problem, decisive action has been taken with the establishment of the Medical Training Board and the two commissions (for both Senior and Resident Medical Officers [junior doctors]) tasked with finding solutions to the workforce problems.

The Government has already announced it will train 200 more medical students, although the NZMA believes that even more will be needed so New Zealand can become self-sufficient and not have to rely on the uncertainty of recruiting doctors from overseas to fill shortages.

"Doctors make a huge contribution to the health of the New Zealand people, and we need to ensure that sufficient doctors are trained, recruited and retained in New Zealand. There is a global market for health professionals, with many countries able to pay significantly higher salaries than us. Ultimately, the New Zealand medical workforce needs to become self-sufficient."

"We are heartened by the new Minister’s awareness of our problem, and indeed the other shortages across the health workforce, and look forward to more action on the recommendations that are to come forward from the Medical Training Board," Dr Foley said.

In addition, and importantly, the NZMA looks forward to working with both Commissions in 2009 as we develop sustainable solutions for New Zealand's medical workforce.