Dunedin Public Hospital nurse Helen Adair has raised
concern over the hospital's working environment. Photo by
A Dunedin Hospital nurse says her ward is understaffed,
nurses are demoralised and patient safety is at risk.
General surgery ward nurse Helen Adair said she was speaking
to the media because management was not listening.
The "hugely unsafe" situation put some patients at risk, she
Her ward - 4C - had had an increase in high-needs patients
recently which exacerbated the situation.
The 31-year-old, from Bournemouth, England, felt "guilty" for
going public, but had "hit a wall".
Ms Adair says her concerns are shared by other nurses.
Nurses were frequently in tears, and morale was extremely
low, she said.
Sick-leave rates were high, which she suspected could be due
Nurses sometimes had inadequate rest time between shifts,
which they were often asked to pick up at short notice.
Gaps were not filled when nurses were away, or nurses were
pulled in from other wards to help for short periods.
After the Otago Daily Times approached the DHB for its
response yesterday morning, senior management approached Ms
Adair, resulting in a promise of a meeting with staff.
After putting her concerns directly to senior managers
yesterday afternoon, Ms Adair said she had a better
understanding of the situation, including the lack of agency
nurses in Dunedin.
She was concerned, however, that the DHB cited new patient
management software, known as TrendCare, as the solution. Its
benefits would not be fully realised until mid-2013 and an
interim solution was needed immediately, she said.
Not having enough staff meant delays to procedures like
administering intravenous antibiotics and dressing patient
wounds. The longer wounds were open, the greater the risk of
Nurses were also challenged prioritising tasks such as
cleaning patients who had soiled themselves, she said.
Requests to hire healthcare assistants to undertake low-level
tasks had gone unheeded.
Management tended to cite budget constraints to nurses.
Ms Adair had initially feared sanction for speaking out to
the media, but said she had become frustrated. "If I get
fired, I get fired".
Southern DHB chief midwifery and nursing officer Leanne
Samuel said when contacted Ms Adair faced no sanction for
Ms Samuel said 4C was not understaffed, but she acknowledged
the "entire fourth floor" was busier than usual and was being
The DHB was making the best use of resources it could, she
The TrendCare software helped managers keep a close eye on
all parts of the hospital.
A major IT patient management project, the system would not
be fully rolled out until the middle of next year.
Another Dunedin Hospital nurse, who did not wish to be
identified, said the hospital was the most unhappy place at
which she had worked.
In the past two months, she had seen many nurses leaving
wards crying from stress and frustration.
The DHB seemed to lack a casual pool of nurses who could be
called in at short notice, which was unusual for a major
hospital, the nurse said.
Senior management did not communicate with staff, leaving
middle managers to take the flak, she said.
Earlier this month, at the DHB's hospitals advisory committee
meeting, a report showed the nursing budget to March was
nearly $1.6 million under budget. Asked about this, Ms Samuel
said the situation had changed and she expected the nursing
budget to be overspent by the end of the financial year.