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Hospital recruitment a challenge

Wairarapa Hospital is better staffed than it was a year ago but still has a high number of vacancies.

Senior hospital managers told the Times-Age the hospital had just under 24 clinical vacancies last week, with 16 more full-time equivalent clinical staff than it employed at the same time in 2022.

Kieran McCann, interim lead hospital and health services for Te Whatu Ora Wairarapa, described the current recruitment environment for healthcare workers as challenging.

“It’s a challenge for everybody across the country at the moment. We feel we are responding well to that challenge,” he said.

“We had high turnover towards the end of last year, and we’ve seen that start to turn. We haven’t had the same levels of turnover.”

The total number of clinical staff at the hospital increased from 345 last June to 361 this month.

Numbers employed across all main clinical categories increased over the past year, except midwives.

This month, the hospital had 262 nurses, compared to 251 last June. There were currently 11 nurse positions vacant.

At present, there were 65 allied health staff [physiotherapists, pharmacists, psychologists and others] employed, compared to 60 a year ago, and there are currently three vacancies in this category.

There were five vacancies for senior medical staff at the moment, versus 22 employed – about the same number as a year ago.

The number of midwives decreased to 11 from 12 last year, leaving four vacancies in the category.

Active recruitment is currently underway for all vacant clinical positions.

Medical vacancy and employment numbers do not include locum roles contracted to cover existing vacancies.

“We still have areas of vulnerability around our workforce,” McCann said, referring particularly to the senior medical staff.

He said long-term recruitment of senior staff remains a challenge.

“Senior doctors are always an area we struggle to recruit in. That’s an area we often do have a lot of international recruitment.

“The vacancies are positions we want to appoint to permanently. Many of those vacancies are covered by locums and long-term contractors,” McCann said.

“They are not gaps in our system. What we want is to recruit and retain our own staff.

“We recognise that having too heavy a reliance on a locum workforce is not the best for continuity, and we would rather recruit our own staff and have them here permanently.”

Overseas medical contractors typically come to the region for between six and 12 months.

Dr Mark Beehre, Te Whatu Ora Wairarapa chief medical officer, said it is important training standards are adhered to when recruiting offshore.

“We are pretty rigorous about the vetting and the standards of clinical care of the locums that we employ. Everyone has to go through the registration process with the Medical Council of New Zealand,” he said.

Meanwhile, the region’s nursing numbers have improved, McCann said.

“We have started to get on top of the nursing vacancies that we’ve had. They had been high for some time. Our levels of recruitment for nursing are a lot better than they were.

“We’re not in the same position that we were last year.”

McCann said as positions are filled, new positions are being added, but stressed the challenges are ongoing.

“We haven’t fixed that problem. There’s a chronic issue for New Zealand around the recruitment of clinical workforces of all professional groupings. At the moment, we are doing well in that space, but that changes all the time,” McCann said.

“We are growing our workforce. One of the challenges we have is recruiting them all the time.”

Many hospital nurses are local, McCann noted.

“For Wairarapa, in terms of our relationship with our community and how we train and develop people, a lot of our nursing recruitment is done locally.” – NZLDR

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZOnAir

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