Covid-19: MIQ changes for health staff are welcomed, but they will not close the gap in South Auckland.

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Changes to Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) to bring in more healthcare workers from overseas, according to a nurses’ union, do not go far enough to address skills shortages in understaffed areas like South Auckland.

A healthcare worker from Middlemore Hospital’s emergency department says the number of staff being scratched from rosters daily is a serious concern as it is already under serious pressure due to staffing shortages.

Middlemore Hospital in South Auckland. Photo: LDR / Stephen Forbes

The government announced the changes, which will see 300 MIQ spots a month reserved for health and disability workers, in October.

Minister of Health Andrew Little said the new workers were needed to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Whether it’s bringing doctors or nurses in from other places or New Zealanders bringing their skills home, we need to be able to get them into the country and into the workforce,” he said.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation acting nursing and professional services manager Kate Weston said that was a good start, but would not address the shortages district health boards like Counties Manukau DHB were already facing.

“In the Auckland region alone there’s 1000 vacancies for nurses,” she said.

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Counties Manukau DHB is seeking to fill 237 nursing vacancies and 23 positions for specialists.

The government’s move to allow Covid-19 patients to isolate at home would also lead to more demand for nurses expected to monitor them, Weston said.

“That will require people and resources. It’s an emerging issue we will have to deal with.”

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists said the decision to guarantee MIQ spaces for health professionals was sorely needed.

Executive director Sarah Dalton said border closures had exacerbated problems in an already stretched health system.

“Services are crying out for skilled staff. The number of vacancies is putting senior clinicians under immense pressure and is a major cause of burnout. It didn’t make sense to have people stranded overseas,” she said.

A Counties Manukau Health spokeswoman said the DHB had 13 prospective employees who were ready to relocate to New Zealand now and were seeking MIQ spaces.

“At Counties Manukau Health we work to attract people with appropriate qualifications and experience applicable to a range of available roles,” the spokeswoman said.

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“Some of these people may be relocating from overseas, and some may already be based in New Zealand. What’s most important is that their skills and experience align with the needs of the role.”

A Ministry of Health spokesman said the new guaranteed spaces would ensure critical health and disability workers could be brought into New Zealand faster.

“It’s important to note, this is not an increase in MIQ spaces, it’s a new allocation of MIQ spaces for critical health and disability workers. Also, this is to address shortages of critical health and disability workers only.”

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