Registrar doctor vacancy levels of 4.6% to 8.1% at the four big DHBs in Auckland and Waikato are concerning the NZ Resident Doctors’ Association members, says general secretary Dr Deborah Powell.

The New Zealand Resident Doctors’ Association – that is struggling to settle a new deal with the 20 DHBs that retains its safe working hour rosters – said an Official Information Act request shows vacancy rates of between 4.6% and 8.1% with the highest vacancy rate being amongst surgical registrar (15%) and medical registrar (12.4%)  positions in the Auckland region.

“Our surgical and medical registrars are some of our hardest working doctors, working on duty assessing and treating patients 24 hours a day, 7 days of the week,” said Powell.  “These doctors can least afford to have to do the work of 2.”

NZRDA that represents about 3200 plus of the 4000 resident medical officers (junior doctors), has been in pay talks with the 20 DHBs since March.  It is trying to settle the first agreement since striking in 2016-17 led to the adoption of the current ‘safer working hour’ roster rules that stop a junior doctor being rostered for more than 10 consecutive days or four consecutive nights.

The DHBs have in the interim settled a deal with the  much smaller, new Specialty Trainees of New Zealand (SToNZ) union, that came in to effect on December 10 allowing junior doctors to work for a maximum of up to 12 consecutive days, with the aim of an average maximum working week of 60 hours per week. The SToNZ union was set up by predominantly surgical registrar trainees concerned that the NZDA ‘safer staffing roster’ had ‘unintended consequences’ on specialist training.  NZRDA has described the SToNZ deal as a “massive step backwards” for patient safety and doctor wellbeing as it would allow fatigued surgeons to operate on patients.

Powell has indicated that strike action is likely in the New Year if NZRDA hadn’t managed to negotiate a new DHBs’ contract before the February 28 expiry of the current NZRDA contract and the DHBs start offering the SToNZ contract to all junior doctors instead.

Meanwhile Radio New Zealand reported today that the NZRDA and the senior doctors’ union Association of Senior Medical Specialists (ASMS) were boycotting a medical workforce workshop being held by the Ministry of Health today.

The meeting was called by Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield with a wide variety of medical leaders and organisations invited to discuss doctors’ wellbeing, training and provision of health services including the new growing rival union SToNZ (Specialty Trainees of New Zealand).

Powell said in a statement, regarding the current vacancies level, that a recent national survey of registrars found that the lack of work life balance and difficulty getting into advanced training were the commonest reasons given for basic surgical registrar positions being less attractive.

“A trend we are now seeing played out in very real terms in the Auckland region. However, in the Auckland region, members have also stated that they are choosing to leave to work in provincial hospitals because of the added cost of living in the Auckland area.”

“The Auckland DHBs must incentivise registrars to stay and work in the region. Such incentives need to be financial while also recognising the importance of work-life balance and training opportunities resident doctors are seeking,” said Powell.

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