Election 2014

21 Nov 2011

Ryall's claim over extra staffing angers doctors

6:43 pm on 21 November 2011

The National Party has released details supporting its claim there are 800 more doctors working in public hospitals than three years ago.

Comments on the topic by National's health spokesperson Tony Ryall sparked anger from doctors at a conference in Wellington last week.

Mr Ryall's on Monday released details to back his claim - but senior doctors say it is too unreliable.

Tony Ryall's claim about extra doctors in public hospitals under the National-led Government and 2000 extra nurses is not new - but it led to heated questions from doctors at their annual conference, including this one from a Whakatane specialist.

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"I don't see any increase in our staff at the moment. There's 800 doctors you tell us are there, what I'd like to know is, how many doctors in those three years have died, left, retired, fallen over with stress and aren't able to work?"

The figures released by Mr Ryall show that at the end of April this year there were 817 extra fulltime medical staff working across all 20 district health boards and an extra 2300 nurses, compared with late November 2008.

Ministry of Health figures also show that Auckland DHBs have got almost 400 extra medical staff over the period, with Wairarapa at the other end of the spectrum on three extra.

But Ian Powell, executive director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, says he still does not believe there are 800 more doctors.

"No we don't agree with that, and Mr Ryall needs to look beyond the printout that he's given. He needs to drill below the printout to get to the facts of the matter."

Mr Powell says the figures released cover all doctors, when it is staffing at the senior specialist level that is most worrying.

He also says different views by individual DHBs of what amounts to a fulltime equivalent doctor cast doubt over the accuracy of the figures.

"These figures are unreliable to make workforce projections on and unreliable to comment on the issue of hospital specialist shortages."

Tony Ryall says such inconsistencies have been fixed and maintains his figures are backed by Medical Council data showing there are 1300 more doctors on the medical register with practising certificates this year compared with 2010.

"So all the numbers are in alignment that we have had a good increase in the number of doctors working on the frontline in our public hospitals."

Mr Ryall puts the row down to testiness over pay talks. "We're very confident in those numbers. I think, of course, when you're five days out from the election and very strong opponents of the Government are commenting, you have to take it as just the run-up the election and people positioning."

The Medical Council would not comment on Monday, but says the number of registered doctors has grown by 3000 since June 2008.

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