ED nurse shortage claim denied

The Southern District Health Board says it replaced senior nursing staff who left its Dunedin emergency department and rejects claims from a Labour MP who says the departures left it short of experienced staff.

Dunedin North Labour MP Dr David Clark said the loss of more than a dozen nurses in the six months to March resulted in a lack of senior nurses available for emergencies.

''More than a dozen senior emergency department nurses resigned between September 2013 and March 2014.

''A disproportionate number of the remaining senior staff are in management roles and no longer available for on-the-spot emergency care,'' Dr Clark said.

Earlier this month, Dr Clark released figures purporting to show nurses were caring for up to 10 patients during busy night shifts in the department.

Southern District Health Board patient services acting director Sharon Mason said in an emailed response experienced nurses from other parts of the hospital had transferred to the department to fill gaps.

The board also recruited externally, and there were no registered nurse vacancies in the ED.

She confirmed 13 nurses left in the six months to March, but said only nine of them were senior nurses. Of the 13, two were on fixed-term contracts that ended. Another nine left ''due to relocation'', six of them because their partner's job moved to another centre.

Three nurses stayed with the health board, moving to other parts of the hospital. ''As a snapshot in time, this reflects a higher-than-average turnover in Dunedin ED, but please note the majority of staff who left to follow their partners to other locations.''

Asked how many nurses the department had, Ms Mason said it had about 55 ''during the period in question'', but did not say how many it had now.

''All nurses commencing employment in Dunedin ED undergo a full orientation and training programme supported by the emergency department nurse educator.''

New Zealand Nurses Organisation organiser Lorraine Lobb said the union had been concerned by gaps in the ED nursing rosters for most of this year. There had been improvement recently, she said.

''In the meantime, ED staff have been working extra shifts, and are stretched and tired.

''The funding of the DHB is probably not adequate to staff these areas in the manner to which our members would like.''

ED presentations had been high all year, and had not followed the usual seasonal ebbs and flows, placing more pressure on staff, Ms Lobb said.

''Members have reported that there has been a turnover in ED, but I can't confirm whether they've all been senior staff. I just hope that they've all done exit interviews,'' Ms Lobb said.


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