Wellington Hospital could lose right to train junior radiologists unless working conditions improve

Wellington Hospital's rating for training radiologists has fallen to the lowest level D rating.
Wellington Hospital's rating for training radiologists has fallen to the lowest level D rating. Photo credit: RNZ

By Phil Pennington, RNZ

Wellington Hospital is on notice it could lose its right to train junior radiologist doctors unless it urgently cuts their workload and improves supervision.

Its rating for training has plummeted from A to the lowest level D. This denotes "multiple significant issues seriously impacting quality of training", according to the independent reviewers at the College of Radiologists.

Wellington Hospital, a national centre for training, has until March to fix the problems or lose its right to train about a dozen juniors, a blow to the whole country's capacity in a vital speciality.

The prospect of succeeding with an urgent fix look challenging with the unit in the throes of losing its clinical leader and various senior doctors and technicians.

The downgrade is the latest in a series of shocks this year to specialist medical services falling below standard.

When Dunedin Hospital lost its accreditation earlier in the year to train junior cancer doctors because it lacked enough seniors to supervise them, the senior doctors' union warned other areas of medical care around the country could face a similar fate.

The review of Wellington Hospital found it fell short of compliance in eight out of 12 areas. After-hours workloads were sometimes high and a strain on trainees, the number of senior doctors was inadequate and teaching was an extra pressure, supervision of trainees above starter level was too patchy, and there was a lack of training in some specialised areas.

The review noted doctors were having to draw up rosters because of a lack of administration staff to help with that.

Radiologists specialise in using scans such as MRIs, CTs and ultrasounds to diagnose disease and injury.

Because Wellington Hospital is tackling long waiting lists in part by outsourcing a lot of scans to private providers, this was skewing what the trainees got to do, the review found.

Auckland Hospital turned around a D rating within weeks earlier this year, to rise to a C, but it had fewer, and more straightforward improvements to make.

Wellington has a much longer list of fixes to address, including a recommendation it hire more specialists to do the training.

However, the hospital is heading into the new year losing radiology staff, rather than gaining them.

The flow of radiologists to Australia and to a growing private sector in New Zealand, where the pay is better and the pressure less, is a problem Te Whatu Ora has failed to counter.

Te Whatu Ora was approached for comment on Wednesday was yet to respond.