Essential skills list under review

The ability to employ doctors and nurses from overseas to fill New Zealand vacancies is under review.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is reviewing whether those occupations will remain on the Essential Skills in Demand lists (ESID).

New Zealand Rural General Practice Network (NZRGP) chairman Dr Jo Scott-Jones said the group was ''very surprised'' to see the GP position, along with several nursing positions and resident medical officers, on the review list.

Occupations on the ESID lists are those for which there is a shortage of workers with the necessary skills available within New Zealand and it makes it easier for employers to bring in skilled migrants to fill specific vacancies.

Those occupations under the present review included external auditors, cafe and restaurant managers, glider pilot instructors, general practitioner doctors (GPs), resident medical officers, and registered nurses for aged care, critical care and emergency, medical and perioperative (nurses who work with patients who are having operative procedures).

MBIE called for submissions for the review in July and will be making its decisions about retaining the occupations on the lists in December. Dr Jo Scott-Jones said the network worked closely with the New Zealand Medical Association and the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners on its submission, and opposed the removal of GPs and nurses from the ESID list.

He said they were working towards a longer-term aim of a self-sustaining health workforce, but for the foreseeable future were likely to need to continue to rely heavily on overseas-trained doctors.

''We were very surprised to see the GPs position under review, as we deal with workforce shortages in rural areas constantly,'' Dr Scott-Jones said.

He said there were currently 40 permanent rural GP vacancies in New Zealand, representing about 20% of the 190 rural practices. The submission said ''six of those vacancies are in ''hot spots'' or critical workforce situations, such as illness or retirement, where the practice is in danger of having to close or services to the community need to be reduced if the vacancies cannot be filled. He said the number of vacancies had remained at about 20% to 24% during the past three years.

''The majority of locums are short- and long-term overseas medical graduates.''

In addition, rural community practices also needed experienced nurses.

Rural practices often needed to further train graduate nurses, as the jobs often required a wide range of skills and experience.

However, many rural practices ''do not have the fat in the system to allow them to do that.''

In the network's submission, it said removing GPs from the list would create an unnecessary barrier and restrict the ability to recruit overseas-trained GPs to meet the critical workforce needs in a timely fashion. The submission said 48 overseas-trained doctors had been employed in permanent rural GP positions in the past three years.

Also, as New Zealand's ageing population increased, more GPs would be needed to look after the ''complex medical needs of the increasing numbers of New Zealanders over 65 years old.''

It also points out more than 80% of GPs were 45 years old or older and a ''significant percentage of these doctors will be retiring in the next 15-20 years.''

While more medical students are choosing to enter general practice training programmes, there is still a significant shortage. Dr Scott-Jones said providing GPs was less expensive and a more effective service than using specialists.

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) manager Chris Hubscher said INZ was analysing the submissions received on the occupations included in the review of the ESID lists. ''INZ will undertake any further follow-up with submitters, consult with government agencies and industry, and collate any additional data that may be required before decisions are made on changes to the lists,'' Mr Hubscher said.

''Decisions on changes to the Long Term Skill Shortage List (LTSSL) are made by the Minister of Immigration while decisions on the Immediate Skill Shortage List (ISSL) are made by the head of INZ.

''Employers wanting to bring in migrant workers for occupations not listed on the ISSL or LTSSL may do so provided suitable New Zealanders are not available.''

There were 22 submissions covering the occupations under review as well as those of cardiac technician, dental therapist, educational psychologist and medical physicist, occupationsfor which fewer than five work visas per year were issued during the past five years.

Seven submissions requested one or more of the positions be removed from the lists while 14 asked they remain.

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