Immigration rule change brings some relief for struggling rural doctors

The axing of an immigration rule requiring foreign healthcare workers to start their jobs by March 31 is welcome news to rural doctors.
On Saturday, Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi said a border exemption for critical health workers to enter New Zealand will stay in place indefinitely.

The exemption was introduced after the borders were closed early last year and allowed health and disability workers to apply to enter the country, provided they would begin work by March 31.

We made the March 31 deadline when we closed the border, and it was made so we could review it, Faafoi said.

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Weve now decided to lift the expiry date.

As of March 9, Immigration New Zealand had received applications for an exemption under the critical health worker category from 6880 people.

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About 40 per cent of New Zealands general practitioners completed their training overseas.

Of those, 4501 had been approved, 2262 were declined and 117 are yet to be considered.

About 40 per cent of New Zealands general practitioners completed their training overseas.

Rural areas are particularly dependent on international doctors, with about a third of rural practices have long-term vacancies, according to the New Zealand Rural GP Network.

Wait times for appointments can be up to three weeks long at some practices and GPs have warned a reduction in the quality of care is unavoidable unless a solution to the staffing crisis is found.

Our short-term solution is to bring international doctors into the country to relieve the pressure on the rural health workforce, chief executive Dr Grant Davidson said.

However, border restrictions had been disrupting the placement of workers beyond the end of the month.

The indefinite extension meant recruitment and placement could continue throughout the year, Davidson said.

Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi says the border exemption for critical health workers will remain in place indefinitely.

The announcement comes after Davidson and Royal New Zealand College of GPs (RNZCGP) medical director Bryan Betty met with Faafoi and Minister of Health Andrew Little to discuss the doctor shortage.

Prior to the meeting, Betty said the situation was rapidly reaching a crisis point as an increasing number of GPs indicated they were preparing to leave or cut back on their hours.

Burnout among GPs has jumped to 30 per cent of the workforce, up from 22 per cent in 2016, according to a recent college survey.

Betty said a slow-burning GP shortage had been exacerbated by the Covid-19 border closures, the cost of managed isolation and quarantine and delays in processing and approving visa applications for overseas recruits.

Hospital patients were increasingly being discharged early, with GPs and other community providers expected to meet their needs without additional funding and resources.

DHBs in deficit were more focused on saving costs for hospital budgets, but the primary sector was becoming overloaded.


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