A Covid-19 recovery fund that helped retrain people who lost jobs was a "big missed opportunity" to attract new health workers, a midwifery union leader says.
Midwifery Employee Representation and Advisory Service co-leader Caroline Conroy said, in her view, the fund was geared towards people who wanted to be "builders and plumbers", not health professionals such as midwives.
The Government said the fund helped some health-related programmes and was targeted at below degree level to support economic recovery over a "relatively short timeframe".
Lakes District Health Board says it is working hard to recruit amid a national and international midwife shortage, and women are still receiving good care thanks to a team effort from local medical professionals.
The Targeted Training and Apprenticeships Fund was announced in mid-2020 to pay learners' costs for vocational education and training as New Zealand recovered from Covid-19.
Conroy said the fund supported people who had lost their jobs because of Covid by retraining them for other roles. For people who might have wanted to work in the health sector, however, she claimed it was "a big missed opportunity".
"[The fund] didn't go to anybody that was doing a degree course - all the health professions are degree courses."
She said a lot of people in Rotorua would have lost their jobs due to Covid, especially given the downturn in the tourism sector.
"Unfortunately, the way the Covid re-training funding was structured, they were encouraged to be builders and plumbers, and not health professionals.
"That was probably a significant missed opportunity."
Covid-19 Response and Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the fund was designed to respond to the expected impacts of Covid-19. It was primarily to support people, including those who lost their jobs, to train, retrain and gain skills to support New Zealand's economic recovery over a relatively short timeframe.
"As such, it targeted training below degree level, which takes a minimum of three years to complete."
The fund provided "fees-free" training opportunities for a range of vocations and subject areas including some health-related programmes such as community health, and caring for the elderly and people with disabilities.
Health Minister Andrew Little said the number of midwives working in district health boards nationally had increased by 8 per cent over the past few years, from 1413 to 1529.
"We know we are playing catch-up following nearly a decade of underinvestment by the previous Government which has resulted in a workforce shortage across the health system - including midwives.
"The union, district health boards and the Ministry of Health are working together to attract and retain midwives, with a particular focus on employing more Māori and Pacific midwives."
Little said it was the first Government to commit to pay equity, making sure the skills and responsibility of midwives were properly recognised and could make midwifery a more attractive profession.
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick, a former midwife and MP, said workforce planning had "always" been pushing for more midwives to go through training, ever since she was in charge of maternity.
It had always been challenging to fill midwife vacancies, she said.
Chadwick said it was "a very important issue for women" and saw "great hope" in the new Pae Ora (Healthy Futures) Bill.
The bill provided for a new structure and new accountability arrangements for the publicly-funded health system, in order to protect, promote, and improve Kiwi's health.
"I hope that will address some of these issues about community-based providers because that is the whole way to go in the future."
Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said strengthening the maternity system, including addressing the shortage of midwives, was a priority for the health sector and Government.
Budget 2020 included the "largest-ever funding boost" for primary maternity services, with the Government investing $242 million over four years.
This would support a range of initiatives such as strengthening national and local maternity quality and safety programmes and supporting workforce sustainability, she said.