30 Apr 2023

National's health policy: Bonding scheme for nurses and midwives

4:37 pm on 30 April 2023
Christopher Luxon

Leader Christopher Luxon revealed National's health policy. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

National will offer incentives for nurses and midwives to study, if they enter a bonding scheme, requiring them to work in New Zealand for five years.

At the party's Northern Region Conference in Auckland on Sunday, leader Christopher Luxon revealed his party's health policy.

He said the health system was in crisis, and the key to solving the problem was retaining the workforce.

He said under National, the government would pay off $4500 a year from the student loans of nurses and midwives.

"To access the scheme, nurses and midwives will need to enter into a bonding agreement with the Government, where they commit to working in New Zealand for at least five years after they graduate," he said in a statement.

Luxon said the scheme would be open to registered nurses and midwives who were already in the workforce and had graduated within the last five years, on a pro-rata basis.

He said National will also grant qualified overseas nurses and midwives a six-month temporary visa without a job offer to look for work.

Luxon said up to a 1000 qualified overseas nurses and midwives will be granted relocation worth up to $10,000 each to move to New Zealand.

Labour challenges scale of nurse exodus

Ayesha Verrall

Ayesha Verrall Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Health Minister Ayesha Verrall has accused National's health spokesman Shane Reti of misusing numbers to try to beat up the scale of the exodus of nurses from the health sector.

She told the New Zealand Herald when Reti and Luxon were announcing the party's new policy, they claimed that since Labour got into power in 2017, "almost 19,000 nurses have left the public health system".

However, Verrall said that was "plain wrong and he knows it".

"The data Shane Reti is referring to is the number of nurses who have both left or moved into another nursing job such as moving from Whanganui to work in Auckland,or moving from a hospital to work in aged residential care or for a GP. Many have not left the health system, they are just in a different part of it.

"When I provided Shane Reti this data, I told him that. But he chose not to mention that when he released it publicly."

She said the total number of nurses employed by Te Whatu Ora had actually increased between March 2017 and December 2022 by 4108 full-time equivalent nurses - a 19 percent increase.

When asked, Reti said National had made it "very clear" that the number included transferred and re-employed nurses.

The Herald said National's initial press statement had included a note at the bottom to say the data did not take into account those who had been transferred or re-employed.

Verrall did voice some approval of National's policy, saying it was "great to see National get on board with caring about nurses" after delivering only a 15 percent pay increase to them throughout its nine years in government.

Aged Care Association welcomes National's health workforce policy

Aged Care Association chief executive Simon Wallace said the policy was well targeted and would support the aged care sector to recruit the nurses it desperately needed.

He said financial incentives were needed to encourage more New Zealanders to train as nurses and National's policy did that.

"The immigration component of today's announcement is also welcome. Giving the families of migrant nurses' work and study rights is a huge boost for these workers, they can now settle in New Zealand right away," he said.

Wallace said the sector was short of 1200 nurses, almost a quarter of its nursing workforce.

The Nurses' Organisation said the policy was making inroads into solving staff shortages - but could go further.

Spokesperson Kerri Nuku said National needed to do more to support students currently training to continue.

She said there was a high attrition rate in the first two years of training due to financial pressures and National's policy would not go far to support them.

However, it was good political parties were thinking about the issues in the health sector, Nuku said.

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