NZ considering closing doors to overseas GPs & junior doctors?

4 July 2014

Concern about unemployed young Kiwi doctors is prompting the government to consider dropping GPs and junior doctors off the essential skills migrant list.

New Zealand has for decades been highly reliant on overseas-trained doctors who make up about 40 per cent of our GP workforce.

But Immigration New Zealand is now reviewing whether the doctor shortage is severe enough to warrant GPs and junior doctors still getting high priority as migrants.

The review been called for by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (which Immigration New Zealand is part of) as “information in the media from late 2013 suggests some medical graduates have not been able to obtain jobs.”

The Herald on Sunday reported in November last year that nearly 100 medical graduates missed out on jobs in Auckland hospitals because of recruitment drives to attract foreign doctors. Health Workforce New Zealand chairman Des Gorman said at the time that the problem was mainly caused by more young doctors remaining in New Zealand.

Health Minister Tony Ryall announced yesterday that the Government was investing an extra $3.8 million to increase the number of general practice doctor training places up to 170 which was the “biggest intake ever”. He also noted that there were more than 200 applications this year for places compared to less than 120 last year.

Currently resident medical officers (excluding first year resident medical officers) are listed under the immediate skill shortage list and general practitioners under the long-term skill shortage list. 

The two medical occupation categories are part of Immigration New Zealand’s annual review to see whether the migrant skill lists do their job of attracting migrants to fill skill shortages that no suitably qualified New Zealand citizen or resident workers are able to fill.

The review said the Ministry currently had “no view” and was seeking “further evidence to confirm whether this occupation is still in shortage, and if so, whether the shortage is at a graduate level and/or for experienced doctors”. 

The two doctor occupation categories join nine occupation categories in total under review including four registered nursing occupation categories which are being reviewed on the request of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation and because of similar concerns about unemployed new graduate nurses (further story to follow on nurse categories).

Four other medical occupation categories remain unchallenged on the long-term skill shortage list: anaesthetists, radiologists, intensive care specialists and medical oncologists. The only nursing category on the skill lists not being reviewed is mental health nursing (currently on the immediate skill shortage list). Immigration New Zealand said the mental health nursing shortage was reviewed last year.

“The evidence that was presented then demonstrated that there was a shortage of experienced mental health nurses (with at least three years’ experience) for patient safety and nurse training. There is no information to suggest any significant change since then.”

Submissions on the review process can be made up to July 25 and, following wider sector consultation, the review decisions will be announced later this year.