NZ Medical Association faces collapse due to plummeting membership


By Geir O'Rourke

16 May 2022

The New Zealand Medical Association has become financially unviable and is facing closure within months due to lack of members.

The NZMA board met last week and unanimously agreed to recommend to liquidate the 136-year-old association at its upcoming annual general meeting.

“The financial position of the association is unsustainable,” said NZMA board chair Dr Alistair Humphrey.

“Two decades of stagnant membership and the accumulation of deficits has reached the point where we must dissolve, or we will soon become insolvent and unable to meet our obligations to staff and creditors.”

It followed a report on the “dire and urgent” financial situation at the body, which said it currently had just 1129 paying members, equivalent to less than 10% of the NZ medical workforce.

The association’s cash reserves had dropped from $1.2 million NZD in December 2018 to just $460,000 by May this year – less than the amount needed to cover its running costs for the next four months.

Given that more than half of the association’s full fee-paying members were aged over 60, subscription revenue was likely only to decline in the future, the report added.

Dr Humphrey said there were hopes to continue the New Zealand Medical Journal, along with the NZMA’s other assets including its benevolent fund and code of ethics.

“We are in discussions with other sector organisations on how to pass these assets on and will share more in due course,” he said.

He said the NZMA constitution required any resolution to liquidate to be approved by members at a general meeting and confirmed at a follow-up meeting.

A resolution would be presented to members at a rescheduled AGM on 30 May 2022, and if approved, there would be a Special General Meeting in late June to confirm the decision.

Dr Humphrey said he was personally heartbroken to share the news, but the financial reality was clear.

“The NZMA has a proud record of service to the New Zealand medical community and to the country as a whole since 1886,” he said.

“In recent years, we have been part of an expanding number of organisations in this area. This has unfortunately contributed to a diluting of membership numbers, which has undermined the association’s financial position.”

“Serial NZMA Boards and staff have made many attempts over the last few years to come up with a way to save the Association – to pare back, to undertake a merger, to raise revenue or trim costs somewhere or another.”

“Despite their best efforts the financial position has become more and more precarious.”

Back home, the AMA has faced financial challenges of its own, with the body’s Victorian branch moving last year to offer “associate” state-only memberships at a 40% discount on full memberships.

The move was immediately described as a “declaration of war” by former AMA Victoria president Dr Stephen Parnis because none of the membership fee was distributed to the federal AMA in Canberra.

“The authority of the federal AMA is undermined,” he told the ABC.

“And the resources and policy strength of the AMA at state level — which depends very heavily on the information and expertise coming out of the Canberra part of our organisation — won’t be available and that will undermine, irreparably, the strength of the organisation.”

The AMA reported an operating surplus $2.5 million and total equity of $32.5 million at its 2021 annual general meeting.

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