Thursday, November 30, 2023

National aims to boost nurse numbers through student loan repayments

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National Party leader Christopher Luxon, left, spoke with East Care Accident and Medical clinical director Peter Woodward, centre, and operations manager Lianne Webber during a visit to the centre on May 1. Times photo Wayne Martin

People who train as nurses or midwives will have part of their student loans repaid by taxpayers if they work in the sector in New Zealand for the first five years of their career.

It’s a policy the National Party hopes will address the country’s dire shortage of such workers and will be implemented if it’s elected to Government at this year’s general election on October 14.

Party leader and Botany MP Christopher Luxon says the country’s health system is in crisis, with a “severe shortage of nurses and midwives contributing to ballooning waitlists, delays accessing treatment, and dangerously overcrowded emergency departments”.

“Under National, the Government will pay nurses’ and midwives’ student loan repayments up to $4,500 a year for the first five years of their career.

“This means a nurse or midwife over five years would be $22,500 better off. This increases their take-home pay by $87 a week.”

Luxon says almost 19,000 nurses have left the public health system in the past five years, but the Labour Government disputes that claim.

Health Minister Ayesha Verrall told news media that figure represented the number of nurses who had left the sector or moved into another nursing role within New Zealand.

Luxon says nurses and midwives are “doing their best”, but have been badly failed by a Labour Government that has not prioritised investing in the frontline.

To access the scheme, nurses and midwives will need to enter into a bonding agreement with the Government where they commit to working in New Zealand for at least five years after they graduate.

“This will also be open to registered nurses and midwives already in the workforce who have graduated within the last five years, on a pro-rata basis,” Luxon says.

“This will support the health sector to retain these early-career nurses and midwives in New Zealand.”

Luxon promoted the policy during a visit to the East Care Accident and Medical centre in Botany on May 1.

He was given a tour of the centre by staff including clinical director Peter Woodward and operations manager Lianne Webber.

Speaking to the news media afterward, Luxon said the country’s healthcare system is in “tremendous crisis”.

“There is no greater brunt being borne by our nurses and our midwives at the moment.

“So what we’ve got is a very simple process to say ‘look, we want to be able to develop talent from within New Zealand to go into nursing, and we want to incentivise and encourage those young people to do that’.

“At the same time we need to be able to attract great overseas nurses that are qualified here as well.”

A National Government will also establish a relocation support scheme offering up to 1000 qualified overseas nurses and midwives grants worth up to $10,000 each to support their move to New Zealand.

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