New Zealand: Chinese nurses could help shortage

International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance

ISSN: 0952-6862

Article publication date: 18 July 2008




(2008), "New Zealand: Chinese nurses could help shortage", International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance, Vol. 21 No. 5.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

New Zealand: Chinese nurses could help shortage

Article Type: News and views From: International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance, Volume 21, Issue 5

Keywords: Public health systems, Maintaining nursing standards, Efficiency improvement

The expected influx of Chinese nurses will bring multiple benefits to New Zealand’s health system, experts say.

The nursing shortage could be slashed by this week’s signing of the free trade agreement with China.

Up to 1,000 Chinese workers, in 20 trades classified as being understaffed in New Zealand, can now live here for up to three years, provided they meet qualification standards.

Nursing is one of those trades, and the expected influx of Chinese nurses will bring multiple benefits to the country’s health system, experts told the Herald yesterday.

“With nurse vacancies at all the country’s district health boards – and some of those vacancy levels extreme – the Chinese nurses would be welcome,” Ministry of Health nursing chief Mark Jones said. New Zealand had a unique ability to get the best out of its foreign-trained nurses, and the new arrivals would be no exception. He said there had been tension in the past with a belief in some quarters that there were too many foreign nurses in New Zealand. “But we really welcome the added value these foreign nurses bring into the country. We’re really positive about this move.”

As of March 31, New Zealand had 44,571 nurses with practising certificates. Of those, 41,219 were registered nurses. About 20 per cent were foreign-trained.

New Zealand Nursing Council chief executive Marion Clark said it was not possible to say exactly how many extra nurses the country needed, as workforce projects were scrapped in the early 1990s and only recently restarted.

“The existence of the council, which was responsible for registering nurses and governing the stringent English language test which formed part of their vetting process, would ensure the new policy did not reduce nursing standards,” she said. “The new arrivals would also fix a common cause of hospital logjams,” New Zealand Chinese Association national president Kai Luey said.

Chinese people make up the largest group of New Zealand’s 354,552-strong Asian community – the country’s fastest growing ethnic group.

“While many Chinese New Zealanders had lived in New Zealand for a long time and communicated fluently in English, for newer arrivals the language barrier meant they often struggled to receive the best healthcare,” he said.

The inability to communicate or understand technical medical information in English meant interpreters were frequently called for in hospitals. However, that often created log-jams while the interpreters were tracked down. Having nurses fluent in languages used in China could eliminate those stresses, and allow more in-depth communication on complicated health matters. He said there was also a different perception of what public health offered between people growing up in each of the two countries.

In China, almost all medical inquiries were directed towards hospitals. In New Zealand there was a much greater reliance on primary healthcare, especially GPs.

“Having Chinese nurses available would help to inform the country’s recent Chinese immigrants of those different approaches, and in the process improve the efficiency of the public health system,” he said.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation professional services manager Susanne Trim said the country’s language and nurse-registration criteria were effective enough to put doubters at ease. “That gives the public some certainty that [Chinese nurses] are safe to practice to New Zealand standards.”

She said her organisation would welcome nurses who wanted to work in New Zealand and would do what it could to help them adapt.

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