Over five years ago, Waikato University proposed launching a medical school and promptly came under heavy attack from then Auckland uni’ Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheson.
Stuart branded the proposal an “ill-considered folly,” but acknowledging the then dire situation with grossly insufficient GPs being produced for New Zealand’s needs, and particularly the rural districts.
At the time we’d not increased our output of new GPs for some years and were reliant on importing foreign doctors; mainly from India, while our population was rising annually thanks to immigration. Of the doctors currently registered in New Zealand, an astonishing 45% are foreign imports, a percentage massively higher than any OECD nation, however, only a third remain here after 3 years. More significantly, they often lack understanding of New Zealand culture.
Currently we have one medical school for every 2.35 million people, the UK has twice as many per capita, America and Canada, four times as many, while Ireland with a slightly smaller population has six.
Stuart claimed it was silly to spend hundreds of millions setting up a third medical school when two adequate ones already existed in Auckland and Otago. Jointly with Otago he then launched a bid for government funding to create a “national school of rural health.”
This seemed an odd proposition as it was certainly news to me that country folk have different medical problems than urban dwellers. When pressed by Stuff journalists Stuart refused to comment. They then filed an Official Information Act request with Auckland Uni’ seeking correspondence and documents on this proposition. Presumably to thwart them Auckland hit Stuff with a ridiculous charge, this action leading to the Ombudsman’s intervention.
The then National government indicated sympathy with the Waikato proposal, however, all of this obviously necessary action went by the wayside when Winston’s shock move resulted in a hugely unready new government. Then along came Covid and the effective close-down of the nation.
Today we pay the price, and not just in the countryside. Few doctors in both town and country will currently take on new patients. More alarming, as in Britain for similar reasons nearly half, so massively over-worked, currently want out altogether.
Recently Jacinda said New Zealand is too small to have three medical schools which is nonsense by international developed nations’ standards, as I’ve detailed. Dr Shane Reti, the Health Minister in a years’ time has however, expressed sympathy to a Waikato medical school being established.
So why Waikato and not say on central geographic grounds, Wellington?
First Victoria university has expressed no interest, probably for good reasons such as already costly student accommodation, construction costs higher than elsewhere and the like.
Because of its relatively remote location Dunedin is an expensive location for students, as is crowded Auckland.
Hamilton by contrast is comparatively cheap plus it’s handy for probably 60% of our population.
But best of all, Waikato university’s Vice-Chancellor Neil Quigley and his key associates are passionate about the proposition. Since Neil took over the reigns about a decade back he has converted the university from a laughing stock to an institution now respected.
By election time next year our medical crisis will be the biggest nail in the government’s coffin, not that it needs any more.
Our nurses are being wooed by Australia with double their current NZ salaries while our hospital situation is already at crisis point as the media point out virtually daily with distressing tales of individual cases. I fear for New Zealand.