Error Rate For Doctor Imports Stirs Concern

Martin Johnston, New Zealand Herald (Auckland), May 21, 2007v

Health watchdog Ron Paterson is concerned by figures suggesting foreign-trained doctors commit more serious mistakes than those who qualify in New Zealand.

His finding comes amid a sharp rise in the number of overseas-trained doctors registering and working in New Zealand.

Among developed nations, New Zealand has the highest proportion of overseas-trained doctors.

Mr Paterson, the Health and Disability Commissioner, said yesterday his office found that in the year to June 2005, 19 of the 36 findings that doctors had breached the code of patients’ rights involved overseas-trained doctors.

At 53 per cent, that is higher than the proportion of doctors working in 2005—41 per cent—who trained overseas.

“The data suggest there is a slight issue,” Mr Paterson said. “It’s something to monitor and I will certainly be monitoring to see if there continues to be this slight over-representation.

“The real concern is having a proper bridging programme, proper orientation and support for new practitioners and ensuring they get appropriate supervision and that that supervision is real.

“I expect those will be some of the issues that are spotlighted in my Wanganui inquiry.”

Mr Paterson is investigating a string of complaints involving a former Wanganui gynaecologist, Czech-trained Roman Hasil, over failed sterilisation operations on women who then became pregnant.

Mr Paterson noted that his concerns arose amid a sense of unease among senior clinicians about the monitoring of newly arrived foreign doctors.

“In New Zealand we know some of our provincial centres in particular are facing real difficulty recruiting . . . medical staff so it is very important we have the appropriate checks in place.

“We don’t want the Medical Council coming under pressure from district health boards to fast-track [applicants] . . . if that’s ultimately going to put the public at risk.”

Senior doctors’ union president Dr Jeff Brown said many provincial areas relied on overseas-trained doctors because so many young New Zealand doctors went overseas for the higher salaries.

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