Bonding scheme helps hospitals plug the gaps

By John Maslin

In a previous life, Roger Millar was a technician servicing office equipment. And while the photocopiers were all the same, it was the people who made that job for him - to a point at least.

But he had a hankering for a career change and decided to become a registered nurse.

Millar graduated in 2006 and started with Wanganui District Health Board the following year.

He worked in Wanganui Hospital's new graduates programme, which meant he was rotated through a number of wards.

For the past two years he has been a member of the theatre team, working alongside the anaesthetists in an anaesthetic technician's role.

But, when the Government's bonding scheme was promoted - offering assistance to help repay study fees - he was quick to become involved. It was a prime opportunity to help pay off some of the investment he and his family had made so he could pursue a nursing career.

"I remember all graduates being emailed information about the scheme, those who had graduated within a particular time period. Being a 2006 graduate meant I fitted into the criteria," Millar says.

"It was all about staffing those hard-to-staff DHBs and Wanganui was one of them. It also focused on those hospitals needing staffing for specialty nursing areas so it wasn't open to all nursing graduates. It included areas like critical care and theatres."

He signed up to the bonding scheme in 2009 and says it has meant a great deal to him and his family.

"We had invested $18,000 in my nursing degree. While student loans are interest-free they are still a significant chunk of your family budget, so this was a way of getting some kind of recompense for the study I'd been doing."

He says the bond scheme worked because it helped those hospitals which struggled to recruit and retain staff.

"The medical profession is a highly mobile one and there are plenty of job opportunities, but getting staff for specialist areas is always harder in smaller centres," Millar says.

The bond is a voluntary scheme and doesn't chain staff to a particular place forever.

"One of the terms is you have to have done a minimum of three years with the DHB. You can change roles but, as long as your services are available to that DHB continuously, then you're allowed to claim."

"The scheme runs for five years and you receive a payment after the first three years."

He says the most obvious advantage of the scheme is that it keeps staff in New Zealand who otherwise would have gone overseas to work.

Like other DHBs, Wanganui's was always struggling for funding to boost nurse numbers but the bonding scheme offers an incentive for staying put and learning.

"For a place like Wanganui it's a real bonus," Millar says.

Health Minister Tony Ryall says the scheme continues to attract a great deal of interest from graduates and it was definitely helping to bolster health services in vulnerable communities and isolated areas.

Registration for the 2012 bonding scheme closed earlier this month.

The Government has budgeted $2.7 million for this intake.

This year's scheme - covering those who graduated in 2011 - has been expanded to include radiation therapists and medical physicists in the push to reduce patients' waiting times for cancer treatment as well as retaining key frontline staff in those specialties.

- Hamilton News

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