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Health board battles staff vacancies

Wairarapa Hospital. PHOTO/FILE

DHB focused on staff recruitment

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On the back of an orthopaedic surgeon shortage at Wairarapa District Health Board, further vacancies have been confirmed.

The Times-Age reported Wairarapa would soon only have one orthopaedic surgeon instead of four, meaning Wairarapa patients may need to travel elsewhere for surgeries while recruitment is under way.

There are 187 people on the Wairarapa DHB orthopaedic wait list, with 88 of these waiting for more than four months – anything longer than this exceeds Ministry of Health targets.

The DHB said it was working to reduce waiting times.

Meanwhile, general surgery, psychiatry, and anaesthetics are also dealing with vacancies.

In general surgery, there are two full-time vacancies and only one permanent general surgeon, the DHB confirmed this week.

However, this would soon be fixed as both vacancies had been filled, and were now just subject to registration and immigration processes.

In the meantime, the vacancies are being covered by locums [temporary replacements], which means the service can continue as normal.

Almost 50 patients are on the general surgery waiting list. None have been waiting past the ministry’s target.

The hospital’s anaesthetics department is down to just three full-time anaesthetists when there should be five, but again, with locum cover in place the service is “substantially unaffected”.

Interviews have taken place for these roles.

The adult mental health service has one full-time psychiatrist and 1.8 full-time psychiatrist roles vacant, again with locums filling in.

However, locums come at a cost, with one MedRecruit report putting the average daily pay for a specialist in New Zealand at $1500.

Wairarapa DHB communication manager Anna Cardno said the region had one of the oldest workforces in New Zealand – “something that we are very aware of and plan for in terms of workforce and succession planning”.

She said recruitment was well under way across departments, however healthcare, especially in the specialty areas, was a “very competitive market”.

“A majority of the senior medical position applications are from overseas and are subject to lengthy registration and immigration processes.”

Cardno said the DHB was facing “particular difficulties” with orthopaedic and psychiatry vacancies, due to a national and international shortage in these disciplines.

She said the DHB was “innovative” in its approach to encouraging a workforce.

“For example, through the Hauora Maori scholarships, where local people are supported [and bonded] to train as midwives and oral therapists, areas where we know we will see significant turnover over in the next few years.”

Cardno said the DHB knew of several senior clinicians who may be considered close to retirement in the next five years.

“To encourage junior training doctors to consider employment here in future, we participate in programmes like the rural immersion training, via Otago University.

“The executive leader of operations and chief medical officer work closely with our senior medical staff to identify retirement plans as early as possible to proactively manage their exit and at the same time initiate recruitment processes.”


  1. As well as the shortages already mentioned in your article we should also include Urologists.
    A visiting urologist only holds a clinic once a month at Masterton hospital and February is fully booked.
    My husband has had two visits to Emergency Department in the last seven days with bleeding, but has to wait to wait until the end of March before he can be seen by a Urologist. The urology nurses at the hospital try their best to put patients at ease but for the patient and their family it is a very stressful time.

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