26 Jun 2023

Immigration drive hasn't recruited a single GP in nearly 8 months

From Checkpoint, 5:17 pm on 26 June 2023
Image of a doctor holding a smart phone

Te Whatu Ora launched an immigration service last year, offering internationally trained health professionals free immigration advice, one-way airfares, temporary accommodation, and moving costs. Photo: Supplied

An immigration service set up by Health New Zealand in October still has not recruited any overseas GPs almost eight months later.

Te Whatu Ora's International Recruitment Centre aims to make it "as easy as possible" for international health professionals to move to Aotearoa.

But no internationally trained GPs are touching down on New Zealand soil, and some GPs trained here say the recruitment exercise is a waste of time anyway.

General Practice Owners Association (GenPro) chairperson Angus Chambers said New Zealand's healthcare was in an unhealthy state.

"I've never seen access to primary care as bad as it is now," he said.

"A very large number of clinics have got their books closed; many people are waiting weeks and weeks to see their GPs."

Chambers' own clinic in Christchurch had just closed its books again, while a recent GenPro survey showed just 45 percent of New Zealand's clinics were taking on new patients.

Chambers said general practices were understaffed and unsustainable.

As part of a solution, Te Whatu Ora launched an immigration service last year, offering internationally trained health professionals free immigration advice, one-way airfares, temporary accommodation, and moving costs.

The organisation highlighted GPs as a key group for recruitment, but so far, none had arrived.

A spokesperson told Checkpoint it was not that the campaign had been unsuccessful; Te Whatu Ora had been focussing on other parts of the health sector and had not yet tried to target GPs.

Chambers said he was not surprised.

"The bureaucracy is incredibly inefficient. There are people who are paid far more than GPs littering those organisations and they think they know best, but they don't.

"They don't understand. They might say stuff, but they don't translate any of that stuff into genuine support."

ProCare chief executive Bindi Norwell said her Auckland healthcare collective had attempted its own international recruitment drives, and the process could be challenging.

"We have been successful with some roles, but it is quite competitive out there."

Norwell said immigration settings needed to improve to make the move smoother.

"It can be quite quick sometimes if they've already thought about a move to a new country, and you make it easier for them - we help them with their immigration papers, we help with their transition over to the country, and that can be a very, very smooth process.

"But others might take a little bit more time to do that; they may have children in schools and things to factor in as well, so it really does depend on the situation."

Mount Eden 575 Doctors GP Jodie O'Sullivan said without better pay on offer, Te Whatu Ora's overseas recruitment efforts may prove futile.

"It's not rocket science. They're going to Australia. The UK's worse than us - so if they're going, they're going to Australia where they're paid a lot of money for primary care. They're not coming to New Zealand.

"Why would you come to somewhere where you're being paid considerably less for poorer working conditions and a system under the pump?"

O'Sullivan said if Te Whatu Ora wanted to boost the workforce, they needed to focus on the retention of workers already in New Zealand.

"Recruitment is not necessarily the answer.

"The answer is retaining general practitioners, making it something that New Zealand doctors want to do when they graduate from medicine, and helping with training GPs."

Overseas-trained doctors could not be expected to enter New Zealand's primary care and hit the ground running, as cultural considerations and knowledge of Te Tiriti o Waitangi had a big bearing on patients' health outcomes, she said.

"We would rather do more work ourselves than get the job done just to fill a gap," O'Sullivan said.

That was despite large shortages across the health sector and a Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners survey showing about two-thirds of the country's specialist GPs intend to retire within a decade.

Te Whatu Ora's website said its International Recruitment Centre aimed to support international health workers to be culturally prepared to live and work in New Zealand, including education on Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Chief people officer Andrew Slater said Te Whatu Ora was continuing its work to attract and recruit internationally.

The International Recruitment Centre was focused on recruiting specialist staff across the health workforce, he said.

"Te Whatu Ora's international recruitment campaigns have so far resulted in over 2246 people sending an expression of interest, 493 candidates have been referred to districts for consideration and 98 have been employed."

A targeted campaign for GPs was due to start later this month.

Two pilot programmes were also supporting overseas-trained doctors who had passed their New Zealand Registration Examinations in the last five years to obtain full registration to practise in New Zealand.

There were currently 20 doctors completing these programmes, 10 of them GPs.