Medical supplies and protective gear for hospital staff at the hospital’s Covid-19 ward. Photo: EMMANUEL SAMOGLOU. 21012218
Reports of issues with recruiting overseas health specialists to help alleviate a staffing shortage at the Ministry of Health is raising concerns over the country’s Covid-19 health preparedness in advance of a potential two-way travel bubble with New Zealand.
Members of the business community have become aware that as
many as half of the cohort of potential health sector recruits from Fiji have
allegedly yet to sign contracts with the ministry, casting doubts on the
country’s Covid-19 health preparedness.
During a government presentation on the country’s
preparations for a potential bubble with New Zealand last month, Health
Secretary Bob Williams provided details of the recruitment drive.
Due to global travel and border restrictions, he said the
ministry chose Fiji to source the potential recruits.
At the time, Secretary Williams said the ministry was
working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration to bring in roughly
30 recruits – mostly nurses, as well as three doctors, a lab technician,
radiographer, and physiotherapists.
However, there are concerns that roughly half have yet to
sign contracts. Remuneration has been cited as a potential stumbling block in
When contacted by Cook Islands News, Te Marae Ora (TMO)
Ministry of Health did not confirm or deny the reports.
The ministry also did not respond to specific questions
regarding the recruitment process and potential impacts on Covid-19 health
“TMO has a robust recruitment process and applicants have a
choice on whether to accept a job offer or not. The recruitment process is
ongoing and will continue as such,” the ministry said in a statement to CI
Arranging travel for successful recruits is currently a
challenge as overseas hires must undergo 14 days of mandatory quarantine in New
Zealand and produce two negative Covid-19 test results before arriving in the
A limited allocation of spaces to Pacific Island countries
in New Zealand’s quarantine facilities adds further challenges, an official
with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration said.
Te Tuhi Kelly, leader of the Progressive Party and public
commentator, said he believed it was unlikely the recruits will arrive by Prime
Minister Mark Brown’s May 1st ‘open for business’ date – a target Kelly also
considers will be difficult to meet.
“I think it’s overly ambitious,” he said. “They need to push
it out to June. I know businesses are suffering, but this is unprecedented.”
“We need access to proper modern and sophisticated
laboratory facilities. Then there is infection prevention control mechanisms,
management on a case-by-case basis for those infected and those exposed.”
“We need operational coordination support and mobilisation
and logistical setup and at the same time maintaining other essential health
services and systems as well as running a country on a business-as-usual
status,” he said.
Private Sector Taskforce chair Fletcher Melvin said he was
aware that roughly half of the recruits, mostly nurses, had been secured so
far. “If 20 is what we got, it’s a good start,” Melvin said.
“Unless things have changed, it’s good that they’re looking
for people and recruiting, which is encouraging.”
Also during the Government’s presentation to the private
sector last month, Health Secretary Williams said TMO was coping with the
staffing shortage by retaining existing staff who were intending to retire.
The ministry has also been able to increase its ranks
through a worker rotation programme and securing several secondments from New
Zealand’s Ministry of Health.
“Whether our workforce will be ready for the opening of the
border when Government decides for that to happen, I’m sure we will be, given
that these people arrive in country in the near future,” Williams told event