Nurse-to-patient ratios in Dunedin Hospital's emergency
department are being stretched to as many as one to 10,
Dunedin North MP Dr David Clark says.
Dr Clark, who is Labour's associate health spokesman, said
nurses were carrying more than the standard accepted workload
of one nurse to three patients in an ''increasingly
The Southern District Health Board said yesterday
nurse-to-patient ratios on their own were not a measure of
good patient care.
Dr Clark said that for critically ill patients, three nurses
were required for each one.
Last Sunday in the ED, the ratio was one nurse to eight
patients for almost an hour, Dr Clark said.
Typically, in Dunedin, nurses cared for four patients during
the day, and five on night shifts.
However, on some night shifts they cared for 10 patients
''In such situations, one or two critical patients can tie up
much of the available staffing resource, leaving the care of
subsequent ED arrivals compromised.
''A First World health system should not put nurses in
situations that blatantly breach professional standards.''
Dr Clark said management failed to deliver on a promise to
work with nurses to improve the situation, after a stop-work
meeting in Dunedin attended by about 300 nurses in February.
Nurses were routinely asked to fill 48 hours of shifts in a
''The situation in ED is increasingly desperate.
''It seems unnecessary risks are being taken when
professional standards are not being adhered to.
''People who have spoken to me are concerned that they are
being exposed to an unsafe environment, and that sometimes
that means that patient care may be compromised.''
Asked if he was politicising the hospital's issues ahead of
the election, Dr Clark said he had been approached with the
concerns, rather than seeking them.
Health funding was a legitimate issue to discuss during an
election campaign, he said.
If elected, Labour would review the population-based funding
system thought to disadvantage the South, and would increase
baseline health funding.
He believed the health sector was underfunded nationally, but
the situation was more extreme in Dunedin, Dr Clark said.
Southern District Health Board acting nursing and midwifery
director Jane Wilson said nurse-to-patient ratios were not,
on their own, an accurate measure of the level of care
required by patients.
''To the best of our knowledge, no reports of concern were
elevated to the senior nurse on Sunday night.
''We continually work with the ED department in Dunedin to
ensure safe staffing levels are maintained.
"Regular monitoring of staffing occurs 24 hours a day by our
''When there are gaps in staffing due to unexpected staff
sickness, unfilled vacancies or high numbers of ED patient
presentations, nurses are sent to ED from areas that are less
busy or from our resource/casual pool.''
The board tried to prevent staff working overtime, but
sometimes this was necessary to ensure safe staffing, she
National MP and Dunedin North candidate Michael Woodhouse
yesterday dismissed Dr Clark's claims as nothing more than
''This Government has lifted Southern's annual funding to a
record $833 million - over $120 million more than in 2008 -
and there are now 116 extra nurses and 62 extra doctors
employed by Southern DHB compared to 2008.
''The latest national health target results show Southern DHB
achieved 93% for the shorter stays in emergency departments.
"This is a significant improvement from the 70% achieved by
Dunedin Hospital when the targets were first introduced in
2009,'' Mr Woodhouse said.