Lifestyle packages answer to anaesthetist problem

Published: Wed 8 Oct 2008 11:55 AM
The following is a media release from the New Zealand Society of Anaesthetists.
Lifestyle packages answer to anaesthetist problem - NZSA
District health boards and hospitals must create attractive employment packages to entice anaesthetists to areas with dire shortages, says the New Zealand Society of Anaesthetists.
President Andrew Warmington says the maldistribution of anaesthetists in New Zealand is a growing concern because of the impact it has on elective and acute surgery.
It’s a topic that will be covered at the Australian Society of Anaesthetists and the New Zealand Society of Anaesthetists combined scientific congress being held at the Wellington Convention Centre from October 11-14.
While the main centres and areas like Nelson, Tauranga and Hawke’s Bay are able to attract staff, Dr Warmington says it is a big problem in smaller, more isolated regions such as Gisborne and Greymouth.
“It is an issue because if you don’t have enough anaesthetists in a hospital you can’t maintain a surgical service. It can impact on the provision of elective surgery and, more importantly, acute surgery including childbirth emergencies such as caesarean sections and major trauma from road accidents.
“With elective surgery it means patients are likely to be on waiting lists for longer and are often sent to other centres for surgery, pregnant woman who are assessed on a case-by-case basis may be sent to another centre and in acute cases you just have to do the best you can.”
Dr Warmington says the problem often escalates because anaesthetists who do work in smaller areas can be overworked. When they find the workload too great they then leave.
He says the Society of Anaesthetists has done its best to draw attention to the problem but he believes it’s now up to DHBs and hospital management to play their part.
The society has spent the past two years visiting hospitals nationwide to talk with staff and management about the issue, it has actively encouraged younger anaesthetists to take up work in these problem areas and it has even talked about training GPs and army doctors to provide anaesthetist services.
“There are a number of initiatives we have tried, but ultimately hospitals need to be creative with their employment packages to entice and retain anaesthetists,” says Dr Warmington.
And he says it’s not just about salaries - it’s about creating an employment package around lifestyle that would attract anaesthetists.
“Helping to write off student loans is one carrot that may entice people. Another thing to look at is local school opportunities as anaesthetists often have families and schooling can be a concern when moving.”
Lifestyle packages might also entice medical professional couples who, Dr Warmington says, almost always remain in the bigger centres because it’s easier to organise employment.
“About a third of anaesthetists in New Zealand are women and many are married to, or have partners who are also doctors, which mean double commitments professionally. Lifestyle packages or packages that can cater for both medical professionals are likely to prove effective.”
Other topics to be covered at the scientific congress starting Saturday include ways to de-stress patients ready for surgery, particularly children and those with needle phobia, medical emergencies mid-air and dealing with risky patients.
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