The recent announcement that more than 3000 New Zealand resident doctors plan to go on a 48-hour strike on October 18, is a cause of concern for everyone.
The current situation is that our doctors are genuinely overworked and overstressed. Patients seeking specialist treatment are already waiting in long queues, and the Medical Council of New Zealand, a body that registers doctors in New Zealand and ensures that they are employment-ready in the job market, ardently believes that it is doing enough to redeem the situation.
According to a report titled The New Zealand Medical Workforce in 2013 and 2014 released earlier this year on January 27 by the Medical Council, and available on their website, “registration data show that the number of practising doctors increased by 2.7 percent in 2014 from 14,964 to 15,366. This change compares with increases of 1.8 percent in 2013 and 2.6 percent in 2012.”
If this is the case then what is a way out?
Can migrant doctors be of any help to ease this situation?
Although migration, in general, is expected to ease the shortage in skilled-workforce around much of the English-speaking developed countries, yet this seems to not work as expected within the medical world.
Apparently, the reason lies in the systematic prohibitive environment in the majority of these countries against the International Medical Graduates (IMGs). The expression large-scale IMG-migration is used when at least 20% of the doctors at work in the host country have been trained elsewhere.
New Zealand already boasts of 42% of International Medical Graduates (IMG) out of its total medical workforce.
Nevertheless, this figure does not tell us the complete picture.
Out of 42% of International Medical Graduates (IMG) that New Zealand currently boasts, there is no clarification on how many of them have been trained in the broader western world and how many beyond, largely in the developing world.
Unfortunately, not all IMGs have same eligibility to start working in New Zealand. While, as expectedly, Doctors trained in the English-speaking world have direct access to the job market in New Zealand.
The overseas trained doctors not falling in this category are required by Medical Council of NZ to pass the New Zealand clinical exam (NZREX) before they become eligible to be registered with Medical Council and eventually work in New Zealand as a doctor.
It is not this examination process that is a challenge at all. Migrant doctors who are up for the challenge do successfully compete in NZREX.
It is this post-NZREX bureaucratic delay in being able to get necessary in-house training at our District Health Boards (DHBs), to be successfully registered, which is completely avoidable.
Apparently, NZREX doctors have to individually contact all DHBs in the country for any position available. In most cases, these NZREX doctors have to rely on their personal acquaintances within DHBs to get into the in-house training. As a consequence, NZREX doctors, who are technically qualified and partially approved by NZ Medical Council still, have to wait endlessly before they can get into our medical system.
Often, the average wait could be anywhere between 6 months to 2 years.
This is a completely avoidable situation. Especially when our resident doctors are complaining 12 days continue roaster and risking their own health and safety, along with that of their patients.
The government can certainly intervene and refine this process in a manner that helps the current situation of resident doctors, NZREX doctors, and the larger community.
What needs to be emphasised here is the fact that NZ government’s current approach of discouraging medical carousel – a term to categorize the large-scale IMG-migration movements in Australia, Canada, the UK and the USA – is not suitable for New Zealand’s larger interests.
These countries are already forced to change their traditional stance.
According to reports earlier this year UK’s National Health Services (NHS) has already sought to recruit Indian doctors to plug the gap in their GP services. Supposedly their action was influenced by a warning issued by the Oxford University “that the increase in GP workloads - up 16 per cent over the last seven years - was ‘unsustainable.’”
It is not too far that increasing workloads on our New Zealand doctors reach to those unsustainable levels.
This, when several competent NZREX doctors, who are mostly New Zealand citizens, are languishing without work because of apparent bureaucratic mismanagement.