Thursday, September 15, 2005

Medical Workforce crisis and Student Loans

Unsurprisingly to me, seeing as New Zealand likes to burden the people we train with oodles of debt after graduating from University, it seems that those in the Medical community are afraid of a potential lack of trained professionals in the medical fields.

The association says the major parties acknowledge that the medical workforce faces chronic shortages, but their recently released health policies barely touch on it.

Medical Association chairman Ross Boswell says the parties' plans to reduce student debt are ad hoc measures and insufficient to secure a stable health workforce.

This is a really key issue for me. As someone who is about to graduate and move into the greater workforce, the debt I have accumulated is going to make me seriously consider a period of time overseas. For example, I could earn more working in a lab overseas than I could here in New Zealand, which will greatly speed up the rate at which I would pay off my student loan. Now my loan isn't anywhere near as bad as those of Medical students, who often have loans well in excess of $20,000 or more. With the large amount of interest that gets piled onto that figure and the fact pay rates here aren't as high eslewhere, prospects for paying off that loan aren't good without sacrificing home ownership, starting a family and other significant purchasing decisions.

The attraction of moving overseas, where pay is a lot higher can naturally be understood and unfortunately, many of the Kiwi medical and scientific professionals who do go overseas don't bother coming back. This is leading to the problem we are now facing at the moment, where we cannot recruit our own medical professionals (who are among the best trained in the world) and aren't able to attract equivalently trained staff from elsewhere.

One of the prime effects of this has to make student loans one of the most important election issues this time around. Unfortunately, neither party has really come up with a very good solution to the problem. Labour has promised to abolish the interest from student loans altogether, while National proposed something that is a lot more modest but at the very least is affordable. Labour however, appear to have been highly deceptive in their initial costings, for example you can see the "original" estimated cost here:

Minister of Finance Michael Cullen provided a backgrounder on the two sets of costings, but no Treasury papers.

Cullen says Treasury's initial $390 million costing was based on a 95% uptake by eligible students and the second $300 million figure was based on different take up assumptions.

However, he says he is withholding all other information to protect confidentiality in the ongoing review of tertiary education spending.

In reality, the cost of their student loan scheme is much higher than expected as papers released by the Ombudsman demonstrate that Labour grossly underestimated the costs. Protect confidentiality of the process? More like attempt to directly lie about it and put a good spin on an inherently flawed concept. In my opinion, Labour have been entirely deceptive and manipulative in their presentation of the 'costs' of this policy and it has indicated to me that they are certainly not to be trusted about this issue. As I blogged earlier, I didn't believe Labour were being honest about the cost of the scheme and as far as I can see this is the nail in the coffin for them.

For example, we can see from the TVNZ source linked above,

Treasury says the policy would cost more than $900 million a year by 2020 - that's about three times what Labour said it would need to spend.

Treasury also estimates that within 15 years student debt will be $5 billion higher than it would have been under the current scheme.

Oh dear, you mean what I predicted back in August that when Labour did the 'real' numbers they could use it as a backout plan to try and avoid following through with the policy.

National estimate that this policy is going to cost the government up to $300 million more, but Westpac trust (a bank) have done their own numbers and they think the number could be as high as $700 million. If this is the case, Labour could very well realise (assuming they win the election) that the interest write off is utterly untenable and compromise.

Of course, now the cat has ended up coming out of the bag, despite Labours best effort to attempt to hide the actual estimates which indicate their policy is going to cost more than they said. The real numbers are out there now and so it won't be an amazing revelation to bring them out later down the line. There will be no running away now with the excuse that a recost had showed the policy was too 'expensive' to maintain, so they are either going to be forced to put up or completely embarass themselves on the issue.

However, considering this is the teflon government and none of their idiotic mistakes have come back to bite them, in the past, I don't think the public will realise how badly Labour have attempted to decieve them over this issue. None the less, I'm a registered voter and I can make them pay for this piece of insanity in the only way I can. By making up my mind to vote for the opposition.