Surgeons call for long-term plan to resolve workforce crisis

College of Surgeons warns that long-term measures to address workforce issues are key to solving the waiting list crisis

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) welcomes the first steps taken by the Planned Care Task Force to tackle long waiting lists for planned surgeries, but urges the government to act faster and develop a long-term plan to recruit and maintain a sustainable supply of skilled health workers.

Last month, leaders of Te Whatu Ora – Health NZ, including task force leader Andrew Connolly, ordered all of its 20 health districts (formerly DHB) to book a surgical slot by August 31 for the 7,500 people who have been waiting for over a year.

Associate Professor Andrew MacCormick, chair of the Aotearoa New Zealand National Committee (AoNZNC) of the RACS, says the College applauds the task force’s urgent and practical first steps to tackle wait times for planned care. However, he warns that the focus should not be diverted from the root cause of long waiting lists and urges the government to speed up plans to address worker shortages in the health sector.

“We have had staff shortages for years and there are vacancies for which we have not been able to recruit. Workers moving overseas for better opportunities and an aging workforce means the situation is getting worse. The pandemic has only added to these pressures and highlighted the lack of resources at hospitals in Aotearoa New Zealand. It also led to more burnout for an already burnt-out workforce.

“There is a good chance that we will continue to be affected by COVID-19 for years to come. We need to look at a long-term approach, 15-20 years, to address current gaps and mitigate risks in workforce planning, succession planning, developing different models of care and building health infrastructure.

“We cannot afford to wait any longer to provide relief. Many areas of surgical specialties are critically short of numbers, which affects the ability to deliver services where they are needed. »

At the same time, Associate Professor MacCormick says any strategy should focus on training domestic workers rather than importing skilled workers from overseas, for reasons of fairness for patients and increasing the Maori and pasifika health workers.

He said partnering with secondary schools to encourage STEM subjects, particularly among Maori and Pasifika students, and ensuring the capacity of our medical schools is fully utilized are just two ideas that could help build the national supply of health professionals.

“However, it takes 15 to 18 years to train a surgeon. A long-term plan with an immediate start should be considered to develop a pool of domestic workers.

Associate Professor MacCormick said the College of Surgeons stands ready to work with the government to address these challenges and ensure we have a functioning healthcare system, now and in the future.

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Michael A. Bynum