NZ Local News

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists: Doctor shortage in NZ leading to deteriorating patients, long waits in pain

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Patients’ health is deteriorating and doctors are leaving the public sector as hospital waitlists mushroom, creating a compounding problem, a doctors’ union says. Photo / 123RF


Patients are being subjected to months of pain due to enormous long hospital waiting lists that are pushing health professionals into the private sector, a doctors’ union says.

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists called on the Government to do more to prevent health issues to help reduce the burden on the health system and waiting times in hospitals.

Severe understaffing meant doctors were struggling against endless and rapidly increasing waiting lists, leaving them unable to keep up, union executive director Sarah Dalton said.

Latest figures showed that more than 50,000 people had waited more than four months for a specialist appointment – an increase from 13,000 people who had waited four months-plus in 2019.

The wait was often devastating for patients living with health issues, leaving some deteriorating while they wait for treatment, she said.

“For a number of them it will mean months and months living in pain. It might mean that because they’re not able to get treatment they’re not able to work.

“For some patients it might mean they become so unwell that they become one of those acutely admitted patients – effectively that means arriving at hospital in an ambulance, as opposed to in a planned way.”

The snowballing problem was driving doctors away from working in hospitals, and meant the staffing shortages were only getting worse, and the Government needed to find a solution as soon as possible, Dalton said.

“It’s incredibly frustrating, and that’s why we’re also seeing a trend of hospital clinicians starting to work more in the private sector, where they tell us the work is more predictable, they have better terms and conditions and a better working culture.”

The Government must increase funding for the health system and do more preventative work to improve public health to avoid future illnesses and stress on the healthcare system, she said.

“I think there need to be some larger discussions about how we fund health, and we also have to have some hard conversations about what we’re prepared to do around preventative healthcare.

“That’s pertinent things like the repeal of the smoke-free legislation, and other decisions at government level.”

The smoke-free legislation scrapped by the new coalition Government to fund tax cuts would have reduced the burden on hospitals, Dalton said.

Dalton said staffing shortages were only getting worse and the Government needed to find a solution as soon as possible.


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