Key staff shortages a problem for SDHB

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
The Southern District Health Board is having serious difficulty recruiting and retaining staff and some hospitals are at risk of not being able to provide services.

Anaesthetic technicians, midwives and physiotherapists — for the latter, particularly at Southland Hospital — were major concerns, a report to the board said.

Chris Fleming. Photo: ODT files
Chris Fleming. Photo: ODT files
The figures raised alarm bells, chief executive Chris Fleming said.

"Each one of those three areas, our staff say we have failed to address performance issues in a timely way, and each one of those three areas there have been relationship and departmental tension and conflict.

"There have been very clear signals that not all is alive and well in that area and we have not responded and reacted in a timely enough way."

The numbers suggested a looming problem, similar to issues which had previously befallen services such as urology and ophthalmology — each the subject of critical Health and Disability Commissioner reports in recent years, Mr Fleming said.

Turnover of physiotherapists in Southland has increased almost threefold from 12.9% a year ago, and physios based in Dunedin have had to travel to Invercargill to help out, board people and capability executive director Tanya Basel said.

"At Southland we have had quite a significant turnover rate of 36.5% [of physiotherapists] as of June, so there has been a lot of attention paid in that space.

"Southland is at significant risk of not being able to provide services with the lack of physiotherapists who play a key role in patient flow," Ms Basel said.

Locally-trained anaesthetic technicians were difficult to attract south, and overseas-trained clinicians steered clear of New Zealand due to poor pay rates.

Recruiting midwives was a long-term and nationwide issue and the SDHB was working with overseas recruiters and local schools to attract staff.

The report also highlighted it could take up to nine months to replace a departing senior medical officer.

Ms Basel said while that figure was worryingly high, some DHBs were taking more than a year to replace such staff.

"Some of our roles or locations are not as interesting or as desirable as other big city centres like Wellington and Auckland, so we do find attracting people to Southland specifically quite challenging," Ms Basel said.

For Southland that meant the hospital was heavily reliant on off-shore candidates but many factors, not the least of them being Covid-19, made that increasingly difficult, Ms Basel said.

"That does add to the length of time to get them in because they have to go through quite a significant process in terms of getting registered, getting Medical Council approvals through, and then of course all the challenges around the immigration process."

The board has drafted a people strategy, which aimed to both improve processes for attracting people to work in Southern, and also to identify promising staff for leadership roles.

It is also piloting an equity programme to try to hire more Maori and Pasifika staff.

Board deputy chairman Peter Crampton (the former pro-vice-chancellor in health sciences at the University of Otago) said DHBs and the future Health New Zealand needed to improve the relationship between future employers and training bodies.

"We need to strengthen the pull we can apply to the system and demand what we need out of tertiary education and we have got to get better at making our demands loud and clear for the minister of education and minister of health."


Well done SDHB confirming there is a problem.
Keeping my fingers crossed you will do something to rectify the dreadful working conditions for all staff which are very demoralising.
It's a shame you have let the resignation of staff & reputation of the hospital get to this state.

Oh my. Go back over the ODT for the last 20 years and the story is the same. And nothing has changed regardless of who is in power. But, don't worry, we have a top rate health system, and we can cope with Covid. Yeah, right. I wonder if our DHB was one of the ones buying refrigerated containers for the anticipated piles of Covid corpses?

And not even a mention of the chronic shortage of experienced nurses. Guess they dont rate too highly in the thinking of the overpaid management.

Terrible employer, no wonder they are in a mess.



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