Southern DHB advertising more than 42 vacancies

Southern District Health Board chairman Pete Hodgson says the board will need to make more investments in its workforce to keep up with the need for cancer services in Southland and Otago's ageing population.

Jonathan Cameron/Stuff

Southern District Health Board chairman Pete Hodgson says the board will need to make more investments in its workforce to keep up with the need for cancer services in Southland and Otago’s ageing population.

The extent of the Southern District Health Board’s workforce shortages has been laid bare in a report to be tabled next week.

A total of seven staff members across departments are waiting to start work at Southland Hospital, where a general surgeon role has just been filled, and the board is still recruiting for seven more positions.

There are 6.7 full-time equivalent nursing vacancies at Southland Hospital.

At Dunedin Hospital, three senior medical doctors are waiting to start, 11 roles are being recruited for and nine have recently joined, with 27 in-patient nursing vacancies being advertised.

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A further 22 allied health staff (medical physicist, sonographer, anaesthetic technicians, medical imaging technologists and physiotherapists) were required throughout Southland and Otago.

This comes as the board has decided to invest an initial $2 million to grow its oncology workforce by 16.

The information will be presented to the board’s Hospital Advisory Committee on Monday.

Board chair Pete Hodgson said the decision to invest in the oncology workforce was a start, and that more investment would be needed in the future.

The board had been under-supplying in various aspects of its cancer services, he said, and the initial investment would help address immediate shortfalls.

Long cancer care waiting times were in the spotlight in May, when waiting lists for radiation oncology services grew to 157 patients.

The waiting list has since come down to 120 patients, according to the latest Specialist Services Monitoring and Performance Reports.

The need for cancer services was growing because of Southland and Otago’s ageing populations, but also because doctors were getting better at treating cancer and could help more people, Hodgson said.

“We need to have a sustainable increase in the services we offer,” he said, adding that the board had already received expressions of interest for the oncology care roles.

The report states that it takes an average of 190 days or six months to recruit a senior medical officer and that many of these roles were filled by overseas hires who required medical council approval – which was described as a lengthy process.

“The changes and fluidity around immigration processes has added further complexity, uncertainty and delays as has the current managed isolation process,” the report says.

Hodgson did not believe that recruitment was becoming more difficult with borders closed, but acknowledged it had always been difficult to attract staff south, despite Otago and Southland being home to some of the best medical training facilities in the country.

“It’s a matter of fact that as long as I can remember, 40 per cent of the doctors we produce have worked offshore and 40 per cent of the doctors working in New Zealand are overseas trained,” the former health minister said.

The vacancies in other parts of the health sector were as important and senior doctors, Hodgson said.

Executive leaders will be refreshing and improving their recruitment strategy to improve their hiring chances, while plans are under way to run targeted campaigns for nurses and multi-disciplinary oncology roles.

They are also considering increasing their efforts to attract overseas nurses, the report says.

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