3 Nov 2022

Registration 'rigmarole' adding to radiology sector woes

5:08 pm on 3 November 2022
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One medical imaging technician with almost 30 years' experience told RNZ he had opted to retire rather than go through the 'phenomenal amount of bureaucracy' required to re-register to work in New Zealand. Photo: 123RF

Radiology departments are under pressure from staff and space shortages but qualified practitioners keen to work in the sector are finding the registration paperwork hurdles prohibitive.

Richard, a south Wairarapa medical imaging technician who returned to New Zealand after 13 years working in the UK, said he would love to work in one of the under-pressure departments, but he had given up after finding the process too onerous.

The paperwork required to become re-registered here seemed "prohibitive", he said, not to mention "kind of unecessary, as I'd already worked here before".

"I really enjoyed what I did. I enjoyed my work. I enjoyed being a radiographer, I found it hugely satisfying," he said.

Richard got hold of RNZ after hearing the reports about radiology staff shortages eroding international standards of scanning in this country.

"I've been qualified near-on 30 years. I've been a radiographer in operating theatres and the fluoroscopy room and the cardiac cath lab, CT, MRI, A and E, plain-film X-ray. I had no complaints against me.

"I was fine. I've got all the ticks."

What Richard does not have is the okay from the Medical Radiation Technologists Board.

He made job inquiries at a couple of hospitals 18 months ago, when he was still optimistic, but he had subsequently given up and retired.

"So New Zealand has lost out on - it sounds conceited this, I know - on an experienced radiographer. And just because of the registration procedure, or how I perceived it to be anyway."


Richard said the process to become registered in New Zealand had seemed onerous: "a rigamarole and a phenomenal amount of bureaucracy".

He had expected to be asked for references, evidence of UK registration and professional development, but not to have to show what he studied at uni 30 years ago in Britain.

"It's too much faff."

By contrast, it was easy for him to transfer his skills to Britain over a decade ago.

It was also easy for his wife, a GP, to re-register in New Zealand on returning here, he said.

"I do wonder if there would [be] other radiographers who have experienced the same."

In five out of the seven at-risk radiology departments identified by independent standards inspection body IANZ - most clustered around the central North Island - "insufficient personnel" was one of the problems flagged.

In two cases, at Nelson and Wellington hospitals, it says recruitment initiatives are in place but being "hampered by registration hold-ups".

Ironically, across the road from two of those hospitals, Palmerston North and Hawke's Bay, private radiology practices are expected to open in the next year or two in new private hospitals.

Nigel von Tunzelman also got in touch with RNZ.

His partner Alina Zagorulko is fully registered with the UK's General Medical Council, worked in Britain as a junior surgeon until swapping into a three-year GP programme, and worked as a radiologist in Ukraine, most recently in 2012, according to her CV.

She attempted to come here last year, aiming to work in public radiology, von Tunzelman said.

"We investigated it and we thought, well, a full UK registration will be fine."

Dr Zagorulko had passed onerous UK tests in 2020, that her partner asserted were very similar to the New Zealand tests - but she was told she would have to do those again, here, and balked, he said.

"If you've passed the UK tests ... surely it is enough due diligence to provide your value and worth and ability to practice in New Zealand ... a very similar medical system."

'I have no powers in that respect'

Von Tunzelman wrote to the Health Minister.

"Here's one that's ready to go, a radiologist ... desperate to come to New Zealand," was the gist of it.

The minister, Andrew Little said in a statement that the Medical Council set the registration requirements.

"I have no powers in that respect," he said.

"I have made my expectations clear to health officials that everything that can be done to expedite the entry and uptake of overseas-qualified health professionals, while maintaining patient safety, should be done."

Von Tunzelman was unconvinced.

"If they're serious about clearing this shortage of doctors, it will be very simple stroke of the pen for the minister to do so."

'Open and accessible'

The Medical Council of New Zealand said unnecessary red tape was not getting in the way.

"We've got some of the most open and accessible pathways to specialist registration in the world," said its chair Dr Curtis Walker.

The council had registered over 1000 doctors from overseas in the last year alone, it said.

"I understand there's always a balance to be struck between providing pathways for doctors to come in to New Zealand, and setting standards for the doctors who work here," Walker said.

"I am very confident that we've got the balance right."

The government had made no recent request to the council to rejig that balance, he said.

Walker worked in the renal department at Palmerston North Hospital, where he said was aware of the staffing pressures, and the IANZ risk ratings.

"We all need to get this right, to make sure that we do have an adequate workforce and that the workforce here is, you know, working to the correct standard," he said.

"I make no apologies for making sure that we get the standard right."

The Medical Radiation Technologists Board, which regulates radiographers (as opposed to radiologists) said it "must ensure practitioners are safe and fit to practice".

There were various pathways, and each applicant was assessed on a case-by-case basis.

It was not common practice to ask about course content from years ago, as Richard had mentioned; what would be sought was evidence of breadth and depth of recent clinical practice, board registrar Caleb Bridgeman said in a statement.

"The board is open to having a direct conversation with the person concerned," Bridgeman said, regarding Richard.

It was also looking to contribute to Health New Zealand "spearheading a coordinated and collaborative approach" to health workforce shortages, the statement said.

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