Health Minister Ayesha Verrall stands by NZ's healthcare reputation, despite 8000 worker shortfall

Minister Ayesha Verrall is backing New Zealand's health system following the revelation the country is short of 8000 workers. 

The Health Minister said the Government has a plan to close that gaping hole over the coming decade.

Speaking with AM's Ryan Bridge on Wednesday, Verrall denied the shortages were damaging New Zealand's reputation internationally. 

"Our health system's reputation is very strong. Whenever I engage internationally, we hear from others about their interest in our successful COVID-19 response," Verrall said. 

"The whole world is facing a shortage of healthcare workers and we are in a good position to build on the gains we have already made and make sure we support our staff well into the future."

The Government earlier this week unveiled a new plan to tackle issues within New Zealand's health workforce. 

The 'Health Workforce Plan' aims to improve health recruitment both internationally and domestically and retain health staff with improved working conditions and pay. 

"What the plan shows is that we are getting ahead on our nursing numbers and some of the misinformation about thousands leaving just isn't having the impact people were saying it was," Verrall said. 

"We are actually doing alright."

But new data from Te Whatu Ora released on the same day revealed the country is short around 8000 health workers, made up of nearly 4800 nurses, 1050 midwives, 1700 doctors, 220 dentists and 200 anaesthetists.

The data shows to maintain current staffing levels, 1600 more health professionals will need to be added a year to meet anticipated population growth.

"I'm not denying for a second that there's not pressure on our staff, there absolutely is, that's why we have put out this plan to build our workforce but also support our staff working hard for us today in a time of shortage," Verrall said.

New Zealand isn't the only country grappling with a healthcare worker shortage, the World Health Organisation estimates a global shortfall of 10 million health workers by 2030.

But as countries around the world try to nab workers from other countries, Verrall said New Zealand's international nursing recruitment is going "very well".

More than 8000 nurses registered for the first time in the 2022/23 registration year, compared to 5000 in the previous year. Verrall said the boost is mostly from international nurses.

"The changes we made last year to the immigration settings are having the effect we need. What's in the plan is making sure we are concurrently growing the domestic pipeline of locally trained nurses as well - that's the next opportunity that we've got to grasp," she said.

Verrall expects the workforce gap to close in 10 years.