Nurses' strike affects 450 patients

Chris Fleming.
Chris Fleming.
The Southern District Health Board has started contacting hundreds of patients to cancel and reschedule appointments booked for tomorrow, after nurses voted to strike.

Up to 75% of the frontline health workforce will be missing from work tomorrow, when members of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation go on strike.

Employment Relations Authority-ordered facilitation talks between the union and district health boards are ongoing, but with NZNO members yesterday rejecting the DHB's latest pay offer and the Government saying there was no more money, strike action tomorrow looks highly likely.

About 450 patients at Dunedin and Southland hospitals will be affected by the strike.

''We sincerely regret having to defer any appointments and apologise to affected patients,'' SDHB chief executive Chris Fleming said.

''Staff will work to rebook patients as quickly as possible, but it will take time.''

Southern, like all DHBs, has worked with the NZNO on a contingency planning team to ensure essential services are available during the strike.

Industrial action scheduled for last Thursday by about 30,000 NZNO members was averted by a last-minute revision of the DHBs' pay offer, a change the NZNO recommended members accept.

However, members rejected it, meaning tomorrow's strike remains on.

''The vote was closer this time ... but we have a simple majority rule and that simple majority was met,'' NZNO industrial services manager Cee Payne said.

''We would have to consider balloting further [on strike action] if there was no shift at all in terms of the current impasse.''

Additional government funding to address NZNO members' concerns about pay rates, pay equity and staffing issues would be needed to head off the strike, Ms Payne said.

On Monday, DHBs made an 11th-hour attempt to restart facilitation talks with the NZNO, an offer which was rebuffed.

However, the ERA subsequently ordered both parties into talks, which began yesterday afternoon and which are scheduled to continue all day today if required.

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters said the Government still hoped reconciliation could be reached before tomorrow's strike.

''The Government doubled the offer from its opening position, and in addition to a pay increase, the offer sought to address staffing issues by adding 500 extra nurses and recognise the experience of longer-serving nurses by adding two extra steps to their pay scale, and by bringing forward pay equity discussions,'' he said.

Tomorrow's strike would be just the second time nurses nationwide have walked off the job. The first time was 30 years ago.

''That is a sad reflection of years of underfunding and neglect by the previous government,'' Mr Peters said.

''This Government is committed to working with nurses to address their concerns, but we can't fix everything in one pay round.''

How the strike affects you

• About 450 appointments and surgeries postponed.
• Hospitals will remain open for essential and urgent services.
• Dunedin and Southland Hospitals will still provide intensive care, cancer treatments, maternity services, renal dialysis patient retrievals, and acute ward services, at reduced capacity.
• Lakes District Hospital will provide emergency department services.
• Rural hospitals in Gore, Balclutha, Oamaru, Ranfurly and Clyde, general practices and most other health services should not be affected.

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

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