Nursing numbers jump in ward 9a

PHOTO: Gregor Richardson
Photo: Gregor Richardson
Nurse numbers have jumped in a Dunedin acute mental health ward that struggled with frequent short-staffing last year.

Wakari Hospital ward 9a now has 26 fulltime equivalent (FTE) nurses, up from 14.5 this time last year — although mental health staffing remains "challenging".

The inpatient forensic ward was among the mental health wards a New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) report revealed were understaffed more often than not in 2023.

Released earlier this week, the report also revealed the shortage of nurses and midwives working shifts in children’s and women’s health wards, inpatient cancer wards and surgical wards throughout the country last year.

Health New Zealand Te Whatu Ora (HNZ) Southern chief nursing and midwifery officer Jane Wilson said yesterday the ward currently had 12 staffed beds.

"Nursing numbers have improved significantly and the ward has 26 [FTE] nurses and active recruitment is ongoing for a further nine."

Ms Wilson said an additional leadership role had been created to support the ward’s nursing workforce after-hours, as well as a clinical coaching role to provide guidance to staff new to working in a forensic environment.

Mental health, alcohol and intellectual disability services had also employed a registered nurse in a workforce development role to focus on recruiting and retaining nurses to work in the field.

Jane Wilson
Jane Wilson
As reported by the ODT, last May there were less than half the number of nurses needed to staff the ward, causing it to temporarily drop the number of staffed beds to 10.

The ward had 11.1 FTE registered nurses, and another 12 roles were vacant.

There were 3.4 enrolled nurses and 3.3 positions vacant.

Workforce shortages were having a "huge impact" on the services HNZ could deliver, it said at the time.

The NZNO report data showed shifts at ward 9a were understaffed 51.1% of the time last year, and 43.6% of the time in 2022.

Southland Hospital’s inpatient mental health ward was understaffed 43.5% of the time, up from 23%.

"Mental health wards report the most acute levels of understaffing in the health system," the report stated.

An average 25% of shifts in public hospitals throughout the country were short-staffed last year, risking patient and workforce safety.

Ms Wilson said Southern was committed to achieving safe staffing and keeping nurse numbers in step with patient needs.

This included redeploying staff from elsewhere, having staff work additional hours, and in some cases enacting an on-call roster.

A recruiting push had resulted in many general wards now being fully staffed or close to it, she said.

"We are now seeing an overall reduction in shifts below target, and more available nursing hours than care hours required to provide patient care.

"We have recently employed a large number of new graduate nurses, internationally qualified nurses and healthcare assistants, and increased our resource pool staffing.

"Fully staffing specialty practice areas such as neonatal intensive care, mental health, oncology and maternity services remains more challenging, despite our commitment to attract and retain nurses and midwives in these areas."