Wellington Scoop

Three times the official figure: hospital’s shortage of senior doctors

News from ASMS
A survey of senior doctors at Capital & Coast District Health Board has revealed a shortage of specialists three and a half times larger than the number of vacancies officially recorded, says Ian Powell, Executive Director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS).

“This highlights the difference between vacancies that hospitals are actively trying to fill and the actual gaps in the senior medical workforce which are often papered over by specialists shouldering more work to keep services running,” he says.

The survey of clinical leaders at Capital & Coast DHB was carried out by the ASMS with a view to assessing how many SMO full-time equivalents are needed to provide a safe and quality service for patients, including patients in need of treatment but unable to access it.

Data produced by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) show New Zealand has one of the lowest number of specialists per head of population out of 32 countries.

Main findings from the Capital & Coast DHB survey:

• Of the 41 HoDs asked to participate in the survey, 26 responded (63%).

• 24 HoDs (59%) responded to questions about the adequacy of FTE SMO staffing in their departments, representing approximately 58% (173.6 FTE) of the SMO FTE workforce at CCDHB.

• 17 HoDs (71% of 24 respondents) assessed they had inadequate FTE SMOs for their services.

• Overall the HoDs estimated they needed 46.3 more FTE – or 27% of the current SMO staffing allocation in the 24 departments – to provide safe, quality and timely health care at the time of the survey.

• Despite the estimated 46.3 FTE staffing shortfall, there were only 13.1 FTE vacancies at the time of the survey (meaning the estimated staffing shortfall was 3.5 times higher than vacancies at the time).

• From the 26 HoD responses, 31% indicated their SMO staff were ‘never’ or ‘rarely’ able to access the recommended non-clinical time and 32% felt their SMO staff had insufficient time to undertake training and education duties.

“These findings highlight some of the realities of working in a constrained public health environment,” says Mr Powell. “Doctors on the clinical front line are saying quite clearly that they do not have enough staff to provide the health care needed, and whichever political party forms the Government after the election needs to listen to what they are being told.”

The full survey results are detailed in an ASMS Research Brief available online at https://www.asms.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/CCDHB-staffing-survey_168406.2.pdf.

The CCDHB staffing survey is the third in the series to date. Similar surveys have been carried out in Hawke’s Bay DHB (https://www.asms.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Research-Brief-Issue-3-Staffing-survey-HB_166255.2.pdf) and MidCentral DHB (https://www.asms.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Research-Brief-MidCentral-staffing-survey_166818.3.pdf).