A suite of targeted measures to train more health workers domestically and bring more doctors and nurses into the country to help address immediate workforce pressures has been announced by the Government today.
The package includes the establishment of a one-stop-shop for international recruitment within Health New Zealand, training more GPs and removing significant cost barriers for professional registration, said Health Minister, Andrew Little.
“The current health workforce shortages have been decades in the making, but have been exacerbated by COVID-19,” said Minister Little.
“Today’s package of measures removes actual cost barrier to migrants entering the health workforce while also ensuring we are training enough people locally in the long-term.”
He said the establishment of a single national health service, which came into force a month ago, had paved the way for a single point of co-ordination for the nation’s health workforce going forward.
“These changes just weren’t possible under the old disjointed and bureaucratic structure.”
“The pressures healthcare workers are under as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the worst flu season in living memory and historic under-valuing and under-resourcing have been extreme over the past few weeks, but actually the problems go back further than that.
“The Government has already made big strides in boosting the health system by increasing health funding by 44 per cent over the past five years to a record $24 billion a year and committing to $7 billion to infrastructure to modernise hospitals.
“We have increased health workers’ pay, in some cases significantly, and we are continuing our programme of pay equity negotiations for many health workers,” the Minister said.
On March 31 this year, 1,765 more doctors and 4,277 more nurses were working for Health New Zealand than there were when we came into Government in 2017, he said.
“We’re training more nurses than ever – 8,190 in 2021 compared to 7,340 in 2017. We’ve changed immigration rules to make New Zealand one of the easiest places in the world for health workers to come to, and during the COVID-19 pandemic we brought in 5700 critical healthcare workers despite the fact global borders were closed.”
“But we need to do more, and now we can. In my first address to them when they came into being on 1 July, I told Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand, and Te Aka Whai Ora – the Māori Health Authority, that urgently addressing the workforce vacancies is the top priority.
“One month on, I’m pleased to outline the immediate steps that are being taken, including practical initiatives to fill vacancies and ease pressure as quickly as possible, as well as proposals for a more long-term fix,” Mr Little said.
The initiatives confirmed today include:
- Streamlining and funding the system for international health workers, including doctors, to get their professional qualifications recognised in New Zealand.
- For nurses, this includes funding of up to $10,000 each to complete and sit competence assessment programmes that can be needed to get registration in New Zealand.
- For doctors, there will be a six-month bridging programme to prepare them for working in New Zealand, including paying salaries during their six-week clinical induction courses and three-month training internships.
- Expanding a successful programme piloted this year that provides $5,000 in funding for every non-practising nurse in New Zealand who wants to return to nursing to help them get reregistered. By the end of this year, the Return to Nursing Support programme will have helped 200 nurses in New Zealand get back into the health workforce, many of them in aged-care homes. The scheme is also being made more flexible to make it attractive to nurses who want to work part-time.
- Expanding a successful system to increase the number of overseas-trained doctors able to work in New Zealand by having them do the internships they need to do to get registered in GP clinics instead of in hospitals. The programme will start with a pilot in Waikato and builds on work already done in the northern region.
- A joint project with the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners to increase the number of GPs trained each year to 300 and to get more Māori and Pacific GPs.
- Double the number of nurse practitioners trained each year, from 50 to 100.
- Funding to increase training slots for radiology registrars so that there 15 more training slots in three years. Increasing the number of radiology registrars will cut the time it can take for cancers to be diagnosed.
- Setting up a one-stop International Recruitment Service within Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand to make it as easy as possible for health workers from other countries to move here and find jobs. The service will offer help with both immigration and registration for all kinds of health workers, including doctors, nurses, midwives and allied health workers such as physiotherapists.
- Supporting people who stepped up to work in the COVID-19 vaccination programme to enter the health workforce. An initial 25 are now working in hospital supporter roles at Auckland Hospital, and Te Aka Whai Ora – the Māori Health Authority will support many more to do the same.
Development of the national health workforce plan is being headed by former Auckland District Health Board chief executive, Ailsa Clare.
“The initiatives announced today are just the start of the workforce plan,” Mr Little said.
“The workforce taskforce will work with health professional and training organisations and will consider questions like what the nature of health jobs will be in the future.
“Another area we are looking at is the repetition of processes and the length of time it takes for overseas-trained nurses when they are seeking registration to work in New Zealand.”
The Minister said he would write to the Nursing Council, Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand, Te Aka Whai Ora – the Māori Health Authority and the Minister of Immigration to ask that it be streamlined.
The health workforce plan will have a strong emphasis on getting more Māori and Pacific health workers into jobs, he said.
“New Zealand’s response to the pandemic has shown how important it is to have a wide range of people and roles in the health and disability sector, such as whānau ora workers, kaimahi and support workers.”
“They made a huge contribution and we are committed to supporting the development of this workforce to help ease pressure on health professionals, and build the capacity and capability of the Māori and Pacific health workforces.
“Te Aka Whai Ora – the Māori Health Authority has a specific role to grow and support the Māori healthcare workforce and to ensure Māori providers and the communities they serve are supported through these challenging winter months,” said Mr Little.