“ACT is proposing to cut red tape to ease our health workforce crisis,” says ACT Deputy Leader and Health spokesperson Brooke van Velden.

“New Zealand’s health system is in crisis. Emergency departments are overflowing, patients languish on waitlists, and it’s harder than ever to get seen by a doctor. Health and medical professionals are doing their best to provide Kiwis the care they need when they need it, but they’re overworked and burnt out. The health crisis is a workforce crisis.

“There needs to be real change. But instead, the Government has been focused on burning billions of dollars shuffling deck chairs, restructuring, and creating the divisive and ineffective Māori Health Authority. It should have been asking basic questions like will this latest idea get better treatment, faster, for more patients?

“Patient Flow Indicators show that every district in New Zealand has been at ‘red’ for the past 12 months for ‘patients waiting longer than the required time frame for their first specialist appointment’ and ‘patients given a commitment to treatment but not treated within the required time frame’.

“If we don’t address the fundamental problems with red tape and regulations in the health system, the situation could get worse given our ageing population and nearly half of all GPs plan to retire in the next 10 years.

“First, ACT will improve health workforce planning with intelligent forecasting. Te Whatu Ora has projections for staffing levels needed in 2032 but such projections leave out key issues like population ageing and assume that models of care, training pathways, and retention approaches will not change.

“ACT says we need to use intelligent forecasting which embraces conditions of uncertainty in order to enable innovation and the development of new models of care. Conditions of uncertainty can take into account changes in technology, migration patterns, the cost of inputs (both workers and technology), and the implications of population ageing. It can be developed to take into consideration the changing health needs of patients, which in turn would require different treatments and different mixes of medical professionals.

“New Zealand is turning away qualified and experienced migrants who want to work here. Rather than embracing these qualified workers with open arms, we set up impossible bureaucratic hoops for migrants to jump through, causing even the keenest migrant to leave our country for more welcoming shores.

“We must do better and ACT will establish a process for recognising the credentials of medical professionals from countries with comparable healthcare systems.

“New Zealanders rely on GP clinics for primary care, but GPs are scarce. It takes six years to train a GP, the supply of domestically trained GPs is constrained, and more GPs will retire as the population ages.

“To take pressure off, and to ensure Kiwis are able to access primary healthcare when they need it, ACT will enable physician assistants to take on more responsibilities.

“GPs should have access to a team of professionals who can offer complementary skills. Embracing new models of care does not mean compromising on the quality of patient care. Patients visit their local GP for a variety of reasons and their treatments require different levels of complexity. Lower complexity needs could include access to repeat prescriptions, ordering and interpreting lab tests, or diagnosing and treating common maladies such as ear infections.

“Health profession authorities (the bodies responsible for the registration and oversight of health professions) wield significant power in influencing the size of the health workforce. Yet they do not face sufficient incentives to undertake activities or implement registration and accreditation criteria where doing so could threaten their own careers in the profession they practice in.

“ACT will give the Health Minister the power to override a regulatory authority’s decisions or processes if the Minister believes the authority’s processes, practices or registration/accreditation criteria go beyond what is necessary to protect the health and safety of the public.

“Getting more domestically trained students through the pipeline is part of the solution and so is increasing public spending. That is why ACT announced in its alternative budget a 13 per cent increase in funding for GP practices, enough funding to equal the subsidy for 2.5 million extra GP visits. But without addressing the fundamental problems with red tape and regulation, policies to address the health workforce crisis risk throwing good money after bad.

“It’s time for real change. Kiwis deserve a flourishing health system, not one on life support.”

Note to editors: ACT's Health Workforce policy can be found here

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