22 Feb 2010

NZ lowest in medical specialist ranking

9:32 am on 22 February 2010

New Zealand has been ranked as having the lowest number of medical specialists per patient in the developed world.

An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) survey puts this country at the bottom of a table of 28 nations, having 0.8 senior doctors per 1000 patients.

Greece topped the table in the OECD survey, with 3.4 specialists per 1000 patients.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director, Ian Powell, says the figures highlight New Zealand's appalling shortage of senior doctors.

"Underpinning all of it is a lack of strategic direction and planning for the sort of senior doctor workforce we need in our public hospitals, and we've not seen the planning for that."

Ian Powell says those who remain in New Zealand are being exploited and the Government needs to act now.

The general secretary of the Resident Doctors Association, Dr Deborah Powell, says 40% of junior doctors who graduated in 1999 have left to work overseas.

Torben Iversen, an Obstetrics and Gynaecology specialist at Gisborne Hospital, says his department is running in constant crisis mode, because of the shortage of specialists.

He says that ultimately affects the quality of services, because doctors are focussed on direct patient care and don't have time for other things that can improve services.

Health Minister Tony Ryall the Government has inherited a long-standing workforce crisis, but is increasing available places in medical schools, and is talking to public hospital staff.

Mr Ryall says it's important to address issues such as lack of opportunities for leadership and research, to increase morale and keep existing medical staff in the public sector.

The head of the Crown body responsible for workforce planning in the health sector says the low number of medical specialists in New Zealand is unnacceptable.

Health Workforce New Zealand chairman, Professor Des Gorman, says the area creating the most anxiety is the low number of general practitioners.