1 Aug 2022

Health recruitment service aims to combat workforce shortages

3:37 pm on 1 August 2022

The government will be working with the Shortland Street television soap and set up an international recruitment service as part of efforts to shore up health workforce shortages.

Health Minister Andrew Little speaks to media at Parliament.

Health Minister Andrew Little speaks to media at Parliament. Photo: RNZ / Craig McCulloch

Minister of Health Andrew Little this afternoon announced the recruitment service among a range of other measures this afternoon.

The recruitment service was made possible and would be housed within the new Te Whatu Ora Health NZ agency set up by the government's health reforms at the start of last month, he said.

Initiatives include:

  • Up to $10,000 each for nurses to remove financial barriers to completing New Zealand registration assessments
  • A six-month bridging programme for doctors coming to New Zealand, with paid salaries including during six-week clinical induction and three-month training internships
  • Expanding the return-to-nursing scheme which offers $5000 to non-practising nurses to re-register, including ensuring it applies to part-time work and removing caps on entry
  • Expanding a pilot programme that allows overseas-trained doctors to do internships in GPs clinics, rather than hospitals
  • Double the number of nurse practitioners trained each year from about 50 to 100
  • Add 15 training extra slots in three years for radiology registrars
  • Helping people who supported the Covid-19 vaccination campaign to enter the health workforce
  • GP training will increase from 200 a year to 300

Little said New Zealand was not alone in having to address "some longstanding health workforce issues", and the problem was made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic and the worst flu season in living history.

Staff absenteeism, largely due to Covid-19 and flu, was also to partly blame and had been "extreme" over the past few weeks.

He said the new international recruitment service would be a one-stop shop for recruiting, and would handle the immigration and settlement work to help those recruited settle in New Zealand and smooth their pathway.

"These changes simply weren't possible under the old disjointed and bureaucratic structure that we had," he said.

The service, set to start operating from October, would support recruitment for all sorts of other healthcare workers including doctors, midwives, allied healthcare workers and others.

"So we have just over 1700 registered nurses who were funded into placement through the nurse entry to practice placement programme, 231 enrolled nurses have been supported into clinical roles since the enrolled nurse support into practice programme started in June 2020, and we have 234 new nursing graduates funded for specialist mental health and addiction work in this year alone."

He said there were more than 7000 people overseas who had registered an interest in working in New Zealand's health sector, with nurses accounting for about 3200 of those.

A multimedia domestic recruitment campaign called Real Nurses had already been set up, he said, to showcase nursing "as a diverse, meaningful and rewarding career", and would run on Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, YouTube, Twitch alongside online and outdoor advertising.

The Shortland Street television show would also be involved in the campaign to attract young people as well as encouraging nurses to return to practice.

"The partnership involves the campaign being integrated into the show's storyline which apparently is a first in the show's 30-year history," he said.

A poster that will be used in health workers recruiting drive including on Shortland Street

Part of a campaign poster that will also be tied in to Shortland Street. Photo: Supplied / Ministry of Health

Little said he was not aware of any payment being offered to Shortland Street or its producers for their support. However, he was not certain of the finer details.

"I think it's a sharing of information so that they know and they may even talk about or use the material that is available to promote nursing."

He expected it would be subtly done, but was happy to leave that up to the creators of the show.

"You don't ask public servants to enter the creative sector and work out how that happens, we'll leave the creative sector to sort that out. As I understand it ... there is an agreement as part of the campaign to talk about nursing and what it entails ... Shortland Street is going to play a role."

Little said there were about 600 nurse practitioners in the current workforce and the government wanted to expand that because of the important role they played.

Little said he would be writing to Te Whatu Ora Health NZ, the Te Aka Whai Ora Māori Health Authority and the immigration minister to remove duplication between their processes and reduce the time it took to get registered.

Some 25 people involved in the vaccination campaign last year were now working at Auckland Hospital, he said, and Te Aka Whai Ora would support many more to do the same.

"Their role right now is to support frontline registered nurses to do their job and alleviate some of the tasks that they would otherwise have to do."

He acknowledged pay parity was a major concern for the primary care sector - particularly for GPs and in aged care residences - and ministers would "soon" be receiving advice and getting a process under way for sorting that out.

The government has been under pressure from the opposition to accept there is a "crisis" in health. Little stayed true to his previous line that workforces are "under pressure".

"I don't care what words people use to describe the extraordinary pressures that our system has been under and the shortages that we've got ... we've been carrying shortages for some time."

Weeks not months

Little said he would like to see nurses from overseas being recruited and in New Zealand hospitals in a matter of weeks, instead of four to six months.

The key was Te Whatu Ora, Immigration and the Nursing Council working together to cut out duplication in processing, he told Checkpoint.

The aim was to streamline the process as much as possible, possibly by seconding Immigration staff to work at Te Whatu Ora.

There was a lot of duplication going on between the three bodies at present, Little said.

Asked why the increase in the number of training placements for nurse practitioners and radiology registrars) was taking so long (between two and three years), he said it was what the system could cope with.

Building on exising steps

Speaking from Samoa, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the announcement built on initiatives the government had already undertaken.

"We've been working to support nurses with the cost domestically of coming back into the workforce if they choose to, we've already had an international recruitment campaign but while we've been undertaking that work, in some specific countries, some nurses face greater costs to be recognised for their training in New Zealand than others.

"One of the initiatives is about removing that cost because we're looking to take away any barriers to helping increase our workforce domestically and internationally."

Ardern said New Zealand's offer to nurses to come and work here offered more simplicity than packages in other countries.

"If you choose to come and be a nurse in New Zealand, then you can become a permanent resident. It's nice and clear. We also have of course increased the salaries for our senior nurses by over 20 percent and of course we know that the more we increase our staffing, the better working environment we can create and that's ultimately what we want for our nurses."

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