New Zealand has hundreds fewer nurses per 100,000 people than Australia, with the divide doubling in a decade, figures show.
The under-pressure health system has been plagued by nursing shortages at the same time demand from the latest Covid-19 outbreak and winter ills stretches resources around the country - although new cases and hospitalisations are falling as the pandemic's latest wave eases.
There were 4790 new community cases of the virus yesterday, with the seven-day rolling average at 5608 - down from 7405 a week ago, the Ministry of Health said.
And 648 people were in hospital with Covid-19, including 19 in ICU, but the seven-day rolling average for hospitalisations also fell - from 797 to 703.
New deaths with Covid-19 as the underlying cause or contributing factor weren't updated at the weekend, with New Zealand's toll remaining at 1638.
As the pandemic drags into its third year, there have been ongoing concerns Kiwi nurses are burned-out and are worried they're stretched too thin to keep patients safe, with fears some are ditching Aotearoa for higher pay across the Tasman.
Figures aren't available for this year, but in March last year Australia had 1647.7 nurses for every 100,000 people, compared to 1229.6 in New Zealand.
The difference of just over 418 nurses was double that of March 2012, when Australia was ahead of New Zealand by 200 nurses.
But instead of solving the problem, the Government was "making it as difficult as possible to come to New Zealand and be a nurse", ACT deputy leader Brooke van Velden said.
"ACT says we should have a pathway straight to residency. Labour says it wants to partner with Shortland St."
There's no evidence the two-year work-to-residency requirement for nurses and some other health workers was a barrier to recruitment, and several recruitment campaigns - including reducing cost and admin roadblocks - are underway, Health Minister Andrew Little said yesterday.
Among recruitment measures is a campaign with TV hospital soap Shortland Street to promote nursing "as a fantastic career".
The nurses-to-population figures "need to be put in context", Little said.
"On both sides of the Tasman, not every holder of an annual practising certificate works as a nurse. The health systems in both countries are experiencing chronic shortages of working nurses."
The figures, gathered by the Parliamentary Library and provided to the Herald on Sunday by ACT, are from the Nursing Council of New Zealand and the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia.
Population data is from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and StatsNZ.
The numbers showed if New Zealand had the same number of nurses per head of population the country would have 21,000 more, van Velden said.
"That's a lot of Shortland St viewers … our health workforce does an amazing job and they deserve to be better supported by Government."
Immigration New Zealand's new "Green List" is a fast-track residence and work-to-residence pathway for migrants in highly-skilled, hard-to-fill occupations, but while included in the list, nurses can only apply for residency after being here two years.
Doctors, engineers and scientists can apply from September.
That division should be dropped, van Velden said.
The party also wanted labour market tests and wage rules under the Accredited Employer Work Visa scheme dropped to make it easier for migrants to move between accredited employers.
"It's time for the Government to get real on our health crisis - Shortland St isn't the answer. It's no wonder Australia is becoming such an attractive option to so many Kiwis."
But Little said there was no evidence the two-year work-to-residency requirement was a barrier to recruitment.
"We know NZ is short of working nurses in the public health system - about 3300 vacancies as well as in primary care and aged residential care - up to 2000 vacancies."
Barriers, including competency assessment programme costs and working with the Nursing Council and others to streamline administrative processes, were being targeted among the efforts to get more nurses.
"There are currently about 3200 overseas-qualified nurses who have registered an interest in working in New Zealand."
There'd been a failure of long-term planning and future preparation for the health workforce in the last 20 years, Little said.
Data also gathered by the Parliamentary Library, which provides research services for MPs and staff, showed New Zealand also has fewer doctors than Australia for every 100,000 people, based on the most recent figures available.
As of June last year, Australia had 489.2 doctors per 100,000 people, compared to 356.3 in New Zealand, according to the Medical Board of Australia and the Medical Council of New Zealand.
In June 2012 the difference was 393.5 in Australia and 314.7 in New Zealand.