Doctors warn Government there's risk of catastrophic collapse of healthcare workforce

Indian female doctor leaning against wall with head in hand
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Doctors are warning the Government there is a risk of a catastrophic collapse of the healthcare workforce.

The Women in Medicine Charitable Trust surveyed more than 900 doctors, half in primary care and half in secondary care, and says the response reveals profound distress over widespread understaffing and under-resourcing.

Of the doctors surveyed, 99 percent agreed there was currently a health workforce crisis in New Zealand.

Many doctors felt their concerns had been disregarded for years and the pandemic had exposed longstanding workforce problems, the trust said.

The crisis was widening the equity gap, general practitioner and trust chair Dr Orna McGinn told Checkpoint.

"We have shocking statistics in New Zealand about the gap in life expectancy for our Māori and Pacific vs our non-Māori, non-Pacific patients. We can get nowhere near addressing this gap unless we address this workforce crisis."

Many of the doctors surveyed said they were essentially "firefighting" and couldn't address basic screening like cervical and cardiovascular at the moment, she said.

"This, as usual, effects our most vulnerable groups so we are very conscious that we are not doing what we need to do and this really adds to the sort of moral injury which doctors feel that they're suffering when it's actually the system that's preventing them doing the job that they want to do."

She said it was time for political leaders to acknowledge there was a crisis and take urgent action to solve it.

"I can understand why health leaders don't like to use inflammatory language like a 'crisis' because we ... don't want to undermine confidence in the system," she said.

"But this is quite clear to patients who are waiting for appointments and waiting for surgery and waiting in queues... that the system is in crisis, and we cannot in all conscience dismiss when they ask us, do you think the system is in crisis?

"So we're gaslighting our patients if we don't agree with what they're seeing."

McGinn said it was very distressing to be collating the results of the survey.

"You could see from the answers, the toll this was taking on staff within the system. It was very upsetting to read some doctors describing themselves as broken or feeling that they had to leave their jobs, some had already left their job.

"There was a very high rate of burnout reported in the survey."

There was not a single specialty which was not suffering a crisis in workforce staffing, she said.

There was always a degree of clinical risk when there were staff shortages but McGinn said she still wanted people to go to hospital or their GP if they were unwell.