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New Zealand sabbatical for Dr Karen Blades

t is not with any great feeling of disgruntlement that I am leaving the NHS for a year or so. I am leaving for positive reasons. New Zealand beckons with its promises of lifestyle changes, adventure and a warmer climate.

I am a 30-something GP with a husband and three young children. I work in a rural practice, where I have put a lot in and got a lot out, for the past five years. So why are we uprooting and travelling to the other side of the world?

Lifestyle change has got to be our biggest driving force. We stepped back this summer and took a look at our lives. We were working longer and longer hours, earning the money to pay for a house we didn't have time to live in and for a nanny to look after our children. Does professional satisfaction have to come at a price of long working hours? Our experience as a young professional family in the UK would so far say Yes.

We are searching for that balance of enjoying work and having a family-oriented lifestyle that has eluded us so far.

New Zealand seemed the obvious choice. After a particularly lovely summer holiday at home together we scoured the journals and were spoilt for choice. I chose an agency to broker the move; NZLocums. This is a NZ government organisation which is non-charging and non-profit making. Their purpose is to match overseas GPs and nurses with vacancies in rural practices. Their attraction is that they provide assistance from the initial expression of interest all the way through to immigration and even provide an orientation programme on entry into New Zealand. But there are numerous other agencies and private organisations that are advertised.

The eligibility criteria to work in New Zealand are transparent and laid out in the NZ Medical Council website ( UK-trained GPs should have no problem but there may be restrictions for those trained elsewhere.

The NZLocums website is an excellent resource ( On the website vacancies are advertised from all over New Zealand and the surrounding islands. Once you have selected a few that interest you the agency puts you in touch with them and then support you to make your final choice.

The vacancies vary from very rural full-time singlehanded practices to part-time work within a small town medical centre. There is invariably on-call associated with working in New Zealand but, as in the UK, this is under review. At present there is an initial NHS Direct-style nurse triage that appears to be effective in reducing night-time call-outs, especially when you consider the call-out fee after 22.00 hours is around $150 (£56)! This concept of directly charging patients for their care will take some getting used to I expect.

Here we are two months from our initial phone call with work visas for me and my husband and student visas to allow my children to be state educated. We are off in January. I have a six-session placement in a small town in the Bay of Plenty, North Island. This comes with a one-in-seven on-call rota which you are remunerated for in addition to an adequate salary. My husband has been granted a general work visa and so can now apply for any job on the same basis as a New Zealander.

We have elected for temporary work visas and if we decide to stay we will then apply for residency. The government website ( is an excellent resource on your options and is very easy to navigate. Having said that, NZLocums have done most of the hard work for us and have even provided us with information on local school performances and census details.

Another great source of information was the New Zealand Expo held in London recently ­ well worth the trip to meet immigration officials, banks, estate agents etc.

I was amazed at how many people were there, all interested in living and working in New Zealand. I felt very privileged to have a profession that makes such adventures possible. New Zealand is as keen to recruit quality GPs as the UK is.

Our plan is to stay just for the year, but if we really like it then we may stay for longer, or not come back at all if it is that good. I have nothing lined up for my return, which gives me a terrifying sense of freedom.

I have my moments when I wonder whether we are doing the right thing, especially after a surgery full of patients accusing me of abandoning them and the NHS. But I feel it is the right decision for our family at this time and what do we have to lose? At the very least it will be an adventure in a warmer climate, with the chance to ski, trek, kayak, swim with dolphins, watch the first sunrise in the world....

As an afterthought, I wonder if they have access targets and referral scrutiny in New Zealand....

Karen Blades is a GP

in Leiston, Suffolk

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