Luxon’s health targets delusional without workforce measures

Published: April 10, 2024

Healthcare targets announced by Prime Minister Christopher Luxon yesterday are delusional, says the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists – Toi Mata Hauora.

ASMS’ comments come after the Prime Minister announced nine “ambitious” government goals on Monday to “help improve the lives of New Zealanders”, two of which are in health.

“Without senior doctors in emergency departments to perform the work needed to achieve the six hour target, the government is not just being naive, they are self-deluding,” says ASMS Executive Director Sarah Dalton.

ASMS says if the Prime Minister is serious about meeting his targets he first needs to give Te Whatu Ora targets to reduce the length of time it takes to fill a vacancy, to provide an accurate measure of current staffing and unfilled vacancies, and introduce a measure to ensure doctors are taking their annual leave.

“Te Whatu Ora takes far too long to fill vacancies,” says Dalton. “Someone leaves and it is never straightforward to get the vacancy advertised. How about a target that vacancies will be filled within four months?

“Te Whatu Ora does not have an accurate count of senior doctors in post compared with its budgeted FTE. As a result they don’t really know where they are starting from to meet the Government’s targets.

“Staff shortages are a factor, both in longer stays in ED and wait times for elective procedures.”

“Thirdly, as much as finding new doctors is a challenge, we also need to think about keeping the doctors we have and preventing burnout. Neither of the Prime Minister’s targets will ever be achieved if doctors are burning out and leaving the profession. As of March last year Te Whatu Ora had 1024 years of accumulated annual leave for senior doctors. To protect our existing workforce we need a target that 95 per cent of doctors will be able to take their leave in the year they earn it.

“The Prime Minister said his targets were not here to do what is easy but to do what is needed. Let’s get our priorities right. We need to look after our public health workforce, so they can serve the patients waiting for care.”