Health Minister disputes staff shortage claims

Photo / File photo
Photo / File photo

The Health Minister is disputing a report which suggests the country is facing a shortage of medical staff.

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) has warned that hospitals will be forced to reduce patient services because of an ongoing shortage of medical specialists.

It follows a report by the organisation finding the number of specialist doctors working in public hospitals would decline dramatically if problems with understaffing were not addressed

"Public hospitals are not retaining enough of the specialists we train, are not recruiting enough specialists to fill the gap, and are not retaining many of those we do actually manage to recruit,'' ASMS executive director Ian Powell said.

But Health Minister Tony Ryall disputed the claim, saying it was being driven by upcoming union talks.

"ASMS begins bargaining in pay talks with the DHBs this week, and I am sure this will be their argument,'' he said.

While there are shortages of specialists in some areas, "overall staff numbers are up, turnover is down and fewer are going overseas'', Mr Ryall said.

Record numbers of patients were getting the operations they need, faster, he said.

"There are around 1000 extra doctors in our public health service compared to four years ago ... both junior and senior doctors.''

The ASMS disagreed, saying increasing clinical workloads, obligations to train and supervise junior doctors and leadership expectations had put senior specialists under too much pressure.

The situation is not safe, and services will be cut if the shortage is not addressed, Mr Powell warned.

New Zealand Medical Association chairman Dr Paul Ockelford said the issues were not only about money, and the report highlighted the need for supported clinical leadership to "enhance morale and facilitate innovation and collaboration.''

Labour party health spokeswoman Maryan Street also welcomes the report, saying New Zealand's standard of hospital care would drop as a result of specialist staff shortages.

Green Party health spokesman Kevin Hague agreed, saying the health sector was facing a "looming crisis'' due to demands on senior doctors.


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