While farmers were heaving sighs of relief that the government had finally announced a clear and achievable residency process for international workers and their families that was certainly matched in the offices of the NZ Rural General Practice Network.
It was long-awaited news for an estimated 9000 ag sector workers, and also for around 5000 migrant health workers, including many in the aged care sector.
Rural Network chief executive Dr Grant Davidson said with this new pathway to residency, locum doctors currently working in New Zealand now have the option to stay in the country permanently, providing critical support to our health workforce.
Since the Government paused residence visa applications last March, New Zealand has been losing migrant doctors taking their skills and experience to Australia or back home.
For a number of years the Rural Network has had a contract with government to bring in locums and long-term doctors from overseas to place into rural practices.
“The reality is that 50 per cent of rural doctors are overseas trained because we just haven’t got enough in New Zealand to manage the workload,” Dr Davidson said.
There are around 600 placements in rural practices, and the RGPN has around 100 placements to fill.
“There is a massive shortage, and that situation has been static for some time.
“What’s more, like other sectors, we have an ageing workforce as well and the situation is likely to get worse over the next 5-10 years. Some 35 percent of rural GPs are aged over 50 now.”
Skilled people are already here; they want to stay here, and the health sector desperately needs them, and we are pleased that it is now an option for them, Dr Davidson said.
While the new policy was a positive step forward, it doesn’t solve the problem of the vastly understaffed rural health workforce.
“Ideally we need to train more local doctors and nurses for New Zealand.”
“Without enough local GPs, we rely on overseas locums to fill the gaps in our rural health workforce, and we need be able to bring more locums in easily.”
Like the ag sector, the Rural Network is struggling with the availability of MIQ spaces, which is putting off many migrant doctors from coming here.
“So far all of the doctors who have applied for an emergency MIQ spot have got one, but many are not willing to risk buying flights and planning their move here on short notice if they could miss out on one of these spaces.”
Dr Davidson was also concerned about the limitations on the self-isolation trial for businesses and why vaccinated health workers had not yet been considered for this.
“We have written to Minister Hipkins asking for the self-isolation pilot to include migrant doctors and are awaiting a response.
“The current limitation of workers needing to be within a 50km radius of either Auckland or Christchurch airports seems to be unwarranted,” Dr Davidson said.
“Migrant doctors would be perfect for this initiative. To get in the country they’ve got to be double-jabbed, they have to test COVID negative and they’re very aware of all the health risks and issues involved with the pandemic.
“If they are not the best group to be in this trial, I don’t know who is.”