Offer from 2 medical schools to train more students ignored by Govt

An offer from two medical schools to train more students amidst a healthcare worker shortage has been ignored by the Government.

Otago Medical School acting dean Tim Wilkinson said the university wants to be part of the solution.

"We actively said that we can increase our numbers by 18 very quickly, we could actually increase the numbers more than that, but we could do that very quickly without any substantial change to our course," he said.

Auckland's School of Medicine also made a similar offer last year.

Although the universities were thanked for their offers, it fell on deaf ears.

"We haven't heard any update on that so its too late for there to be any increase for this year," Wilkinson said.

It is a result that's frustrated many groups involved, including the New Zealand Resident Doctors' Association.

"Let's not underestimate just how serious a situation we are in here, our medical pipeline is very much on the brink of collapse," national secretary Deborah Powell said.

Powell said the country needs to boost intake numbers much higher than what's being offered.

"It's not enough, I mean 18's better than none but we need 300.

"Whether that's a third medical school, or the two current schools increasing their numbers, quite frankly that's in the detail, but we have to get across we need 300 more medical students."

The maximum number of places between Auckland and Otago is capped at 539, because unlike many other university courses, a large chunk of Government money is required to support medical school training.

Auckland University has been calling on an increase to the domestic cap for some time. Otago want things to change too.

"We are ready for a conversation to increase numbers, we're not allowed to increase numbers of course until we're told to, but yes we have been having discussions should we be asked to increase numbers, how would we do that, and we are eager to be part of that," Wilkinson said.

In a statement, Te Whatu Ora's interim lead for people and culture Jim Green said it expects to work with both Otago and Auckland universities on how intakes can be grown in the future.

He said Te Whatu Ora agrees the number of medical students we train here in Aotearoa needs to increase over time.

"Changing the number of funded medical school places requires ministerial decisions, on advice from health and education agencies. The number of funded medical school places has been increased periodically over time, usually by steady scaling of intakes over several years.

"Increases are subject to identifying funding to meet the costs associated with medical training. It is also important that we ensure increases in the number of medical students are sustainable, and help grow the capacity of our health system.

"In considering proposed increases to medical student numbers, Te Whatu Ora would emphasise ensuring that increases maintain student well-being, keep attrition rates low, address underrepresentation of Māori and Pacific peoples in our medical workforce, and train students who want to work in rural communities and hard-to-staff areas."

Health Minister Ayesha Verrall told 1News the decision not to raise student intake numbers was made before she took over as minister.

"But New Zealand does need more medical professional, so I will be having discussions with involved parties," she said.

National's Health spokesperson Shane Reti said Labour "has been focused on creating a bureaucratic health restructure and we are now in a situation where wait lists across the health sector have blown out to record levels".

"To fix these issues we are going to need to rapidly increase the size of our health workforce.

"National is looking at all options to increase our health workforce and will have more to say on our health policies in the coming months."

The New Zealand Resident Doctors' Association just wants some action.

"We just want someone to make a decision and get on with it," Powell said.

"We can't keep going and of course there's a six year lead in time, it's not as though these people are going to be qualified doctors tomorrow, it does take six years to train a doctor."