Flying NZ Doctors Become Weekend Warriors In Australia

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  1. Egyptian Doctor

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    MARK COLVIN: The doctor shortage is now so acute that locums from New Zealand are being flown from across the Tasman to work in country hospital emergency rooms.

    At times they're flying over just for a weekend's work.

    Bronwyn Herbert reports.

    BRONWYN HERBERT: Locum doctors have long filled gaps in short-staffed hospitals around Australia.

    Now medical recruiters are going to new lengths to find medical professionals.

    (Sound of jet departing)

    BRONWYN HERBERT: Doctors from New Zealand are flying here for short-term locum work and earning up to $7,000 over a weekend. That's almost three times the pay of a full-time doctor,

    SAM HAZELDINE: The weekend warrior phenomenon for doctors is where you get a doctor who does have a permanent job in New Zealand and just wants to head over to Australia and earn massive dollars very quickly and then come back to their standard job.

    BRONWYN HERBERT: Sam Hazledine is a medical recruiter and places around 300 New Zealand doctors a year as locums in Australia.

    One of those Kiwi workers is Jason Pascoe.

    He's moved from the near freezing city of Invercargill on New Zealand's South Island to take on a three month locum job at Port Macquarie on the New South Wales mid north coast.

    JASON PASCOE: Number for a lot of people is the pay. You are paid more and I guess part of the reason for that is you don't have job security. It's a short term stint, often they're last minute and so you are compensated for that.

    BRONWYN HERBERT: Port Macquarie, like most regional hospitals across the country, can't get enough doctors.

    Here a team of Kiwi locums help keep the emergency room in operation, 24/7.

    JASON PASCOE: It's actually quite a popular thing for New Zealanders to come over and do either short-short stints.

    I wanted to do more emergency department type work and although that is available in New Zealand, it's... I guess Australia being a lot bigger and having more hospitals, there's more of it available.

    BRONWYN HERBERT: Health Authorities in Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia say it's too difficult to quantify the cost of supplying locum doctors.

    In South Australia $5 million was spent last year on locums. That's a 10 per cent rise on the previous year.

    In New South Wales the Government spent $59 million in the last financial year for locum doctors outside cities. That's more than $1 million a week.

    Richard Murray's the deal of medicine at James Cook University in Townsville.

    He's been studying the workforce needs of regional and remote hospitals for 15 years.

    RICHARD MURRAY: We are short of doctors and we've got an ageing population, but that's certainly not the only thing.

    BRONWYN HERBERT: The Federal Government has recently ramped up its funding for rural doctors, announcing $130 million in incentives to keep doctors in rural areas and payments of up to $120,000 for doctors to leave the city.

    And from the first of July more than 3,000 overseas trained doctors will have their restrictions on where they can practice reduced if they work in rural and remote communities.

    Adding to that, Professor Murray says a recent surge in doctor training has buoyed health authorities into thinking Australia will eventually grow its own workforce.

    RICHARD MURRAY: We've gone from a low of around about 1,200 odd domestic medical graduates a year, with relatively small international students who come in and train to get a medical degree in Australia, to something like just over 3,000 – it’ll be just over 3,000 - domestic graduates in less than the space of 10 years. That is an astonishing level of growth.

    BRONWYN HERBERT: But he says the incentives aren't yet in place to attract doctors to where they're needed most.

    RICHARD MURRAY: If we just shoehorn all of those graduates into highly specialised junior doctor training posts etc, in fact this could be a net negative. And they won't trickle out. And I guess once you build that training capacity into major metropolitan hospitals, it's hard to then extract that at some later point and send it to the bush.

    You know, you really do need to take the opportunity now to build those pathways into regional Australia.

    BRONWYN HERBERT: Meanwhile it'll be doctors like Jason Pascoe who'll make the trans-Tasman trip to fill the workforce gaps.

    JASON PASCOE: Most hospitals when they've got locums they would rather they be full time permanent staff, and that’s- I can certainly understand that but I mean I'm here for however long they need me.

    MARK COLVIN: Jason Pascoe is a New Zealand locum. He was ending that report from Bronwyn Herbert.



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