New Zealand’s medical community is warning that an Australian law change making it easier for Kiwi doctors to move across the Tasman threatens to suck New Zealand’s workforce dry.
Rural practices have been among the hardest hit by New Zealand’s “doctor drain” and there are calls for the New Zealand government to intervene.
Wellsford might be small town New Zealand but six of the nine doctors in the medical centre there are from overseas.
Kiwi doctors are more likely to be found across the ditch, as around 300 move to Australia each year. And it is about to get even easier to do so, with a key restriction being lifted.
“(It’s) potentially a nail in the coffin of our medical workforce,” says Dr Tim Molloy from the Wellsford Medical Centre.
Currently, New Zealand trained doctors do not get Medicare benefits for their first 10 years in Australia, meaning they miss out on a government rebate for each patient treated, unless they work where there is a doctor shortage, like the outback.
But come April, the Australian government will lift that restriction for Kiwis.
“This opens it up to even those junior doctors who are maybe just a couple of years out of medical school and want to do general practice and are in urban centres,” says resident doctor Amin Shiekh.
Full-time GPs in New Zealand earn about $150,000, including some after-hours patient care, while doctors in Australia can earn from $200,000 to more than $400,000 for some of the more extreme outback postings.
Shiekh is just one of many junior doctors considering crossing the Tasman.
“It’s the pay and the rostering practices there that make it appealing,” Shiekh says.
Medical services in New Zealand are struggling to compete.
The town of Hanmer Springs in north Canterbury built a new facility to attract doctors and pays their ac a as well.
Cities are suffering too. In Auckland last year a quarter of the 900 resident doctor positions in hospitals were vacant.
“I would like to think that this issue might be raised as a concern by our government with the Australian government,” says Molloy.
Others want the New Zealand government to go to the root of the problem.
“Just improve our conditions in general and it all boils down to money in the end,” says Shiekh.
ONE News received an email from Tony Ryall’s office on Wednesday explaining that he will be raising this issue with Australia’s health minister next time they meet.
It also says that the New Zealand government does not want to rely on trade restrictions to keep doctors here and that it will be looking at significant policy changes.
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