According to experts who say hiring has never been harder, the New South Wales government will need to hire medical staff from overseas and keep senior teams in the sector if it wants to meet its recruitment targets.
This week, the state’s premier, Dominic Perrottet, pledged $4.5bn to boost the state’s health workforce by more than 10,000 over four years, including hiring 7,500 doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals over the next 12 months.
He said the state would not have to rely on foreign workers and was confident that NSW would be more attractive than other states – and other countries – competing for medical professionals.
But the the owner of Frontline Recruitment Group, Graham Howard, said he had never seen such a tight market and has scratched his head since the announcement.
“We have had issues looking for doctors, GPs, and specialist nursing staff for several years – but now, in this current climate, all roles are challenging,” Howard said.
“The response to all of those [recruitment] approaches is the lowest we’ve seen in health – there are no two ways about it.
“If we want them quickly and urgently, then we have to fast-track how we get people from overseas, and the second part is we have to train more people up locally, in the health field to be able to fill these jobs and meet these challenges.”
According to SEEK employment data, almost 25,000 healthcare and medical job ads are listed nationally, with more than 7,200 vacant roles in NSW.
The jobs platform recorded a 32% drop in applications for those NSW roles from 12 months to April.
The Grattan Institute’s health program director, Peter Breadon, said a lack of long-term workforce planning at a national level had led to the “ad-hoc” and reactive approach playing out across Australia.
“It’s good that states are expanding the workforce, but in some degree, they’re competing with each other, and without a national plan … it’s going to be very hard to meet these targets,” Breadon said.
For Breadon, it was hard to see how migration would not play a significant role in getting workforce numbers up quickly.
But a fix will not be as easy as turning on the visa tap, according to the Australian Medical Association’s NSW president, Dr. Michael Bonning, who said ethical issues were at play, alongside the practical challenge of competing in the global jobs market.
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“There isn’t necessarily a surplus of doctors worldwide, so we, in taking for our system, have to be very mindful of where those doctors come from,” Bonning said.
Bonning also flagged possible issues in how new staff is trained. He said the most recent national medical workforce survey indicated many senior clinicians “who are often best placed to teach, to mentor, to supervise” planned to leave in the next five years.
He wanted the government to spend the money to keep those senior doctors engaged in teaching positions, even if they wanted to leave clinical roles, “so that we can bring this next cohort of a generation that we’re trying to create into the system”.
The government is expected to roll out a major advertising campaign to help fill the roles. However, details about how many workers NSW will attempt to lure from interstate and overseas have not yet been finalized.
Last month, Victoria’s state budget revealed a plan to hire or train up to 7,000 new healthcare workers, including 5,000 nurses, to ease pressure on the burdened sector.
On Tuesday, Victoria’s premier, Daniel Andrews, acknowledged that his state and NSW faced a “very competitive” market.
“But we have nurse-patient ratios in this state – a very important part of our system,” he said.
“We think we’re well placed to recruit both from other parts of the country.”
The ratio of one nurse to every four patients was enshrined in Victoria’s legislation in 2015 and is not in place in NSW.
Andrews stressed that getting Australia’s skilled migration “back on track” was also key to plugging workforce gaps in the health sector.
Both the Victorian and NSW governments have urged the new Albanese government to tackle visa approval delays plaguing various sectors, including healthcare.
The NSW government has been contacted for comment.