Auckland's medical school says it's ready and willing to train up more doctors to help fill the shortage but the Government won't let them increase student numbers. But the Health Minister says it's not that simple.
The health system is straining at the seams - tackling COVID and the flu season, while also dealing with a shortage of staff.
"We have a lot of vacancies, we have vacancies in other medical positions as well and we're doing everything we can to recruit into those roles," Health Minister Andrew Little said.
Doctors say the shutting of the borders helped expose the system's Achilles heel.
"Our over-reliance on doctors who are here on working holidays, our UK grads in particular, wonderful people, competent doctors but of course they go home," said Dr Deborah Powell.
Dr Powell said our medical schools need to graduate another 50 doctors a year to fill the shortfall.
"The modelling on that was done a few years ago now and we should've got onto it then, quite frankly," she said.
But there's a catch. The Government caps the number of students medical schools are allowed to train.
The University of Auckland admits 257 domestic students a year. Otago admits 282.
"Every year we turn down many people who would make more than adequate doctors, there's no shortage of applicants, I promise you," Dr Warwick Bagg told Newshub.
"[There are] hundreds who do not get it who would make good doctors."
Dr Bagg said it's a costly exercise to train doctors - $62,000 per year. Around $16,000 of that is covered by student fees and the rest is footed by the taxpayer.
He said they've asked the Government for more funding but it hasn't been forthcoming.
"We have the capacity, we have the expertise, we are ready and it is cost-effective."
But the Government said capacity at medical schools isn't the issue, rather the ability of DHBs to cope with new graduates who need supervision.
In a statement, Minister Little said he agreed that increasing the intake of existing medical schools is a sensible approach but said we have to look at the whole process from entry to medical school to professional training years and make sure there is capacity at every step.
He said he will ask the new board of Health New Zealand to prioritise medical training.