October 4, 2008

NZ Urged to Cut Reliance on Foreign Doctors

By HILL, Ruth

OVER-DEPENDENCE on foreign doctors and nurses has made the health system vulnerable and the Government needs to invest urgently in training more doctors, the World Health Organisation says.

The report, Can New Zealand Compete?, concludes that the health system faces "serious challenges" with demand for health professions set to outstrip supply by 2011.

New Zealand has the highest proportion of migrant doctors among all OECD countries (52 per cent). Just 33 per cent of international medical graduates remain after registration.

New Zealand-trained health workers are also leaving in droves. Currently about 7500 Kiwi nurses are working in other OECD countries -- about the same number as that of foreign nurses working in New Zealand.

The number of New Zealand doctors working overseas is about half the number of foreign doctors working in Kiwi hospitals.

At the same time, the number of medical graduates lags behind the OECD average: 7.9 per 100,000, as opposed to 9.4.

As well as improving salaries and working conditions and luring back ex-pats, it is vital to boost medical school numbers, the report says. "But taking into account the length of training, it might require immediate action."

The head of the Resident Doctors' Association, Deborah Powell, said junior doctors' continuing industrial dispute was a symptom of chronic workforce shortages. "As well as training our own, we have to hang on to them. With 30 graduates leaving last year before even starting work as a doctor, we await this year's uptake with some concern."

National Party leader John Key suggests "bonding" medical graduates to remain for a set period as part of their student loan deals.

Medical Association chairman Peter Foley said debt relief could be a powerful tool in retaining junior doctors, but any system should be "entirely voluntary". Medical Students Association president Anna Dare said debt relief should be offered only after graduation.

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