[color=limegreen:86ef9f3749][b:86ef9f3749]NZ doctors want out as work piles up [/b:86ef9f3749][/color:86ef9f3749]
20 March 2006
By KELLY ANDREW

Nearly a third of New Zealand's family doctors are planning to change jobs, retire, or cut back their hours in the face of poorer salaries and mounting paperwork. The College of GPs is warning that the workforce is spiralling toward critical shortages, with many doctors feeling "significantly undervalued" and burnt out. A report published today by the college, the second of a three-part series, shows 623 doctors ? 30 per cent ? plan to change their work arrangements in the next five years. More than half of this group are aged 31 to 50 ? the core part of the workforce.

Wellington GP Chris Kalderimis, 55, said that, as he got older, he was starting to think about cutting back his working hours. He does 60 hours a week on average. Young GPs were not attracted to self-employment because of the extra workload, responsibility and paperwork along with rising overhead costs, he said. "The rewards are not great. They are saying, `Why should I want to do this when I've got a substantial student loan, why do I want the risk of being self-employed?"'

Today's report says many GPs are considering retirement, or want shorter and more flexible hours. Survey results show that, in 2003, 7.5 per cent of GPs were planning to retire, but last year 18 per cent were considering retirement. The number planning to go into a locum role with more flexible hours had grown from 8 per cent in 2003 to 12 per cent last year. Only 4 per cent plan to become fulltime self-employed GPs, compared with 27 per cent in 2003. Self-employed GPs invest in their practice and work longer hours than those on salaries. Many of the doctors who responded, particularly men, said a perceived fall in earnings for GPs in the current primary care environment was a factor in their plans for a career change.

The median income for GPs is $96,000 compared with a median of $137,500 offered to GPs and specialists employed by district health boards. The average income for a GP working a 40-hour week is $77,500. College president Jonathan Fox said the trends identified in the report were alarming. If more GPs continued to turn to part-time or flexible hours such as locum work, this would leave fewer doctors to see patients.

"GPs will need to work longer hours to make up, there would be more stress and burn-out, and still more retention problems." Waning interest in being a self-employed GP could threaten the viability of the primary care system. "It's getting harder to find people willing to commit themselves to the practice and share the overhead costs and administration."

When the first part of the report was published in December, the college warned that GPs were stressed, aging and their numbers dwindling. Now it is calling for urgent action from Health Minister Pete Hodgson to ensure national workforce planning addresses these trends, make self-employed general practice more attractive, and to assess the bureaucracy associated with the primary healthcare system.