New resident pathway a step forward but not final solution for rural health workforce

The New Zealand Rural General Practice Network welcomes the Government’s 2021 resident visa which will allow over 5000 migrant health workers to stay in the country.

With this new pathway to residency, approximately 80 locum doctors currently working in New Zealand now have the option to stay in the country permanently, providing critical support to our health workforce.

Since the Government paused residence visa applications last March, New Zealand has been losing doctors who have had no other option but to leave, with many taking their skills and experience to Australia or back home instead.

Chief Executive Dr Grant Davidson says this resident visa has created the opportunity to keep current locum doctors in the country where we need them.

“Many locums currently here want to stay and that’s certainly what we want to encourage.”

“Skilled people are already here; they want to stay here, and the health sector desperately needs them, and we are pleased that it is now an option for them.”

Dr Davidson says that while this new policy is positive step forward, it doesn’t solve the problem of the vast understaffed rural health workforce.

“Ideally we need to train more local doctors and nurses for New Zealand.

“Without enough local GPs, we rely on overseas locums to fill the gaps in our rural health workforce, and we need be able to bring more locums in easily.”

However, the Network is still struggling with the availability of MIQ spaces, which is putting off many migrant doctors from coming here.

“We are still battling every day to secure MIQ spaces for locums wanting to come to New Zealand,” Dr Davidson says.

“So far all of the doctors who have applied for an emergency MIQ spot have got one, but many are not willing to risk buying flights and planning their move here on short notice if they could miss out on one of these spaces.”

Dr Davidson says he is also concerned about the limitations on the self-isolation trial for businesses and why vaccinated health workers have not yet been considered for this.

“We have written to Minister Hipkins asking for the self-isolation pilot to include migrant doctors and are awaiting a response.

“The current limitation of workers needing to be within a 50km radius of either Auckland or Christchurch airports seems to be unwarranted,” Dr Davidson says.

“Migrant doctors would be perfect for this initiative. If they are not the best group to be in this trial, I don’t know who is.”