25 Mar 2020

Coronavirus: Hospitals, medical centres face staff shortage

3:31 pm on 25 March 2020

Hospitals and medical centres could face a shortage of doctors and nurses from tomorrow, because some will need to care for their children at home.

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Photo: 123rf

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Sarah Dalton told RNZ's Morning Report that already under-resourced DHBs would likely face a shortage of staff because of the difficulties of arranging childcare under lockdown.

"We're not exactly sure how much of a problem it is but we know there are a lot of medical familes who just don't have childcare options available so one or other of them are going to have to stay home and look after the kids," she said.

She said there had not been enough time for medical professionals to arrange care for their children.

"I think it's important that people realise also that our medical workforce is already stretched, so even on any given day we would say there aren't enough senior doftors.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre

"We also rely very heavily on international medical graduates who are fantastic people who choose to come and work here but that means they're even less likely to have extended family who are going to be able to step up at a time like this.

"I think the DHBs are trying to develop plans and support for all of their staff and we really appreciate that but it's a mammoth ask, and I think even with the best will in the world and even if we had more time we would struggle."

She said there were some who were offering their service as child minders to help medical staff out, but that was not going to be enough to cover all cases.

"I know that there's a few facebook groups and volunteer groups that are setting up where there are students or maybe medical students or people that are available and willing to make themselves available for this type of [childcare] support.

"I'm sure a number of doctors and their families are looking at that as an option, but ... there are some people that are reluctant or unwilling to do that - either through fear of having a vulnerable person in their own family gorup or just being a little bit concerned that looking after a medical family might be more risky, or they're just not able to make that commitment.

"I also think it's a reasonable thing for any parent to have some say over who's going to be looking after their kids."

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There did not seem to be an easy solution to the problem however.

"I think we're going to have to accept that there are some people that we would prefer to be at work more but they're not going to be able to because they're going to have to be able to look after their own families and I think that's a very reasonable thing to do.

"DHBs are already, we would say, not quite running on empty but they're not well resourced. They don't have a lot of fat in the system and you can't create fully developed and safe childcare options in the space of 48 hours."

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