The number of senior doctors working in our public hospitals is not enough for the level of health care needed out in the community, says Ian Powell, Executive Director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS).
“Every now and then the Government points to increases in the number of doctors and nurses as evidence of proper resourcing in public health,” he says.
“The reality, however, is that the rate of increase is woefully behind what is needed. We have an increasing and aging population, with complex and sometimes chronic health conditions, and more illnesses due to increasing poverty. We need to be recruiting and retaining many more hospital specialists than we currently do if we’re to provide accessible quality health care for New Zealanders.
“We already know that thousands of people are missing out on treatment they need because the public health system is not resourced well enough. This will continue to worsen unless the Government provides public hospitals with the staff, money and equipment they need.”
Ian Powell was commenting on Health Minister Jonathan Coleman’s comments that a record number of doctors and nurses are working in DHBs across the country.
“The increases he’s talking about superficially look good on paper but in fact there are significant specialist shortages in our public hospitals. We know that the advertised roles for specialists are far fewer than what is needed to sustain safe, accessible services.”
He says the shortages of hospital specialists is a consequence of many years of neglect, and this has placed an unsustainable and often personally debilitating burden on health professionals. ASMS surveys of hospital specialists had found high levels of presenteeism (going to work while sick) and burnout (50%, with variation by gender, age and size of DHB –https://www.asms.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Tired-worn-out-and-uncertain-burnout-report_166328.pdf).
New Zealand remains low among OECD countries for the number of specialists per head of population. In 2014, for example, we had 1.54 specialists (including trainee specialists) per 1000 population – and the OECD average was 2.09 per 1000.
“The increase in senior doctors in New Zealand that the Minister of Health is pointing to comes off the back of historically very low numbers and is not really anything to celebrate,” says Mr Powell.
“Not only are we desperately trying to play catch-up with our doctor numbers, we’re also facing much higher clinical workloads due to our aging population, and that’s just going to worsen. According to official estimates, about 40% of government health spending is for those aged 65 and over, and since 2009/10, the population in that age group has increased by an estimated 24%.”