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Union calls for nurse practitioners over physician assistants

By Karen Keast | Last Updated: 19-11-2013

New Zealand Nurses Organisation

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation has questioned why United States’ physician assistants are being funded and recruited to work in rural parts of the country.

The nurses’ union has spoken out in opposition to the plans and called for nurse practitioners to instead be considered for the positions.

In a statement, the union said it is “disappointed” five New Zealand practices will host the recruited health workers instead of employing nurse practitioners, who come equipped with a minimum of eight years’ experience and post graduate education.

“We are disappointed that following a flawed and poorly evaluated demonstration at just one District Health Board more U.S. health workers are being

funded and recruited to work in rural New Zealand,” NZNO professional services manager Susanne Trim said.

“There are New Zealand trained specialty registered nurses and nurse practitioners who do similar work but who have not been considered for these funded positions.”

Ms Trim said there is no evidence to prove physician assistants are necessary in New Zealand.

The comments come amid reports four Waikato practices and one Southland practice will host the physician assistants as part of the second phase of the Health Workforce New Zealand demonstration.

In the first demonstration, two U.S.-trained physician assistants were employed for one year to work at an acute surgical unit at Middlemore Hospital in Counties Manukau District Health Board.

On its website, Health Workforce NZ states the move to test the physician assistants' concept in a variety of New Zealand settings with a more thorough evaluation is part of a plan to address the nation’s “significant workforce challenges in rural and semi-rural areas”.

“It was acknowledged that the first demonstration had limitations in that it was the first experience of the role in New Zealand,” the website states.

“Being an unregulated profession the PAs could not operate to their full scope as they do in US.

“The two supernumerary PAs were only hospital – acute surgical team – based and the scope of the role was not initially clearly defined.

“However, the demonstration did reveal that PAs are perceived as useful members of the team, can fill gaps in service delivery and can contribute to improving patient safety.”

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