West Coast DHB recruiting ‘rural generalists’ to solve doctor shortage

5:35 pm on 27 February 2020

The West Coast District Health Board is planning to tackle a shortage of hospital doctors with a new breed of medics: rural generalists.

Health professionals have been warning the health system is desperately stretched.

Photo: 123rf

The Association for Salaried Medical Staff (ASMS) released a staffing survey this month, revealing what it called "a whopping 43 percent shortfall of senior doctors" at the DHB.

Five out of eight heads of department at the West Coast DHB said they did not have enough specialists for their services and estimated they were eight doctors short.

At its meeting this month, the DHB said the vacancies were covered by locum physicians, but its long-term plan was to train up and appoint rural generalist consultants to fill the roles.

They would be doctors with specialist and general skills who could work flexibly across the rural health system with specialist backup, chief executive David Meates said.

"The Coast is at the forefront of this model. We will be creating a new medical workforce over the next 12 to 18 months, and we're off to a good start."

The plan was for rural generalist doctors to manage the DHB's inpatient wards in order to improve the continuity of care.

"They will have the support of Canterbury DHB specialists whenever it is required as well as our sole West Coast DHB physician."

At present, the DHB had just one medicine physician to manage the inpatient ward at Grey Hospital and outpatient clinics, Meates said.

"He is supported by locums. We have previously had three full-time physicians, but two retired and we have been unable to recruit."

The DHB would continue to use some locums as it had yet to fill the on-call ward roster with permanent staff and needed their services for outpatient clinics as well, Meates said.

"We employ 4.6 full-time equivalent anaesthetists and although we've had two resignations since August 2019, staffing for 2020 looks to be in hand."

The DHB launched a recruitment video last month, promoting rural generalism and work on the West Coast, as part of a wider recruitment drive that would continue throughout 2020, Meates said.

ASMS executive director Sarah Dalton said people deserved continuity of care wherever they lived.

"We know that securing hospital and community-based specialists ... can be difficult in rural areas. We would like to see appropriate salary and conditions made available to senior doctors who commit to serving rural communities."

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