More medical school admissions would help NZ doctor shortage

Source: Re: News

Medical and health leaders from the University of Auckland are calling for the Government to increase the number of places in its medical school to help address the shortage of doctors across Aotearoa.

A generic photo of a doctor.

By Mandy Te for Re: News

This comes as doctors around the country are pulling long hours with many getting burnt out. They’re also struggling to meet demand as enrollments are full. And with GPs unable to take on new patients, people are having to travel long distances to get appointments.

UoA Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences deputy dean, Professor Warwick Bagg, said in a statement, “We have been lobbying consistently to increase medical student intake into the existing medical schools but this has not [been] prioritised by any government in recent years”.

The number of places for students in the university’s medical course is determined by the Government and the Tertiary Education Commission.

“We have two internationally competitive medical schools already operating in Aotearoa New Zealand and if we had increased the student intake we have been recommending, we would be much better placed to address the shortage,” Bagg said.

In an interview with 1News, the dean of the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, Professor John Fraser, previously said he had asked the Government to fund an extra 44 places for students over the next six years.

The medical school currently accepts around 256 students each year while Otago Medical School offers 300 places, 1News reported.

Students who don’t get into medical schools in New Zealand often head to Australia and study medicine over there.

Fraser told 1News he was worried budding doctors would not return to New Zealand and their skills would be utilised in other places.

Concerns over a doctor shortage have been raised by the Royal College of GPs. The organisation told RNZ the workforce was older and not enough was being done to encourage medical students to think about becoming a GP.

Fraser said, “New Zealand experienced quite a massive loss of doctors in the previous decade, about 20% of our medical workforce”.

Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners medical director Dr Bryan Betty told Re: there was a “doctor workforce issue in New Zealand” and that went “right back to the number of students who got into medical school”.

He also said there needed to be more exposure in medical schools to general practice.

“Anything we can do to increase supply should be looked at,” Betty said.

Betty said places like Northland, Southland, West Coast, parts of Hawke’s Bay, South Taranaki, South Auckland and Porirua were especially struggling with the GP shortage.

GPs were already working at capacity, he said.

He said he believed the Covid-19 pandemic and now winter had brought these issues, including the shortage of nurses and specialists, to the forefront.

“It’s a worrying situation … We need a strategic approach to solve these issues and this should be a high priority.”

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