16 Dec 2021

Relax immigration rules, open new medical school to tackle health worker shortage - National MP Dr Shane Reti

8:06 pm on 16 December 2021

The government is pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into upgrading 24 hospitals throughout the country. Health Minister Andrew Little said 30 intensive care beds would be added.

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National Party health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says immigration rules needs to be relaxed to help build the health workforce in New Zealand. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

College of Intensive Care Medicine vice president Dr Rob Bevan disagrees.

About $15 million of the funding was specifically earmarked for ICU capacity, he said, made up largely of 12 beds in Christchurch, two in Tauranga and an unspecified number in Gisborne.

"From what we can see in the details, we're adding approximately 16 new ICU beds rather than the 30 that was in the press release."

Bevan said creating fit-for-purpose ICU beds was not an easy job.

"Proper training of intensive care nurses, doctors and allied health takes years ... that's not something that you can turn around in a few months."

National Party health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti told Midday Report it was unlikely the beds would be available by July 2022.

"By that stage, Omicron may well have arrived, so the timing is not going to be good.

"Considering Minister Little was told in April last year to triple the number of beds ... if it's 30 for arguments sake, that's only 10 percent and it really is quite late ... in the piece to be suddenly having an epiphany about ICU beds. The real factor here is our limiting factor has been ICU nurses."

He said Whanganui had four ICU beds for ventilators, but only three nurses who could manage a ventilator, "so their capacity is actually only three".

There was a need to build up the health sector workforce.

"A large part of that is our immigration settings, making it more welcoming, offshore into New Zealand. We have people in New Zealand with nursing skills, ICU schools who are struggling to register.

"Pervasively, we need a medium- or long-term pipeline, not just for ICU nurses, but health workforce in total."

He said National would take several measures to better the situation.

"First of all, we'd relax the immigration settings for ICU nurses offshore.

"Secondly, we'd fast track those nurses and doctors who are already in New Zealand into their what's called PGY1.

"And thirdly, we'd already said that we could explore a third medical school as a pipeline for more doctors and nurses in New Zealand."

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