Resident doctors' strike under way

James Anderson, local organiser for the Resident Doctors Association, laments that doctors feel...
James Anderson, local organiser for the Resident Doctors Association, laments that doctors feel the need to go on strike today and tomorrow. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Dunedin resident doctor James Anderson and many of his colleagues walked off the wards this morning, as a 48-hour strike began at 7am.

Dr Anderson, for one, is not happy about not being at work.

"We are all there to be doctors and work in a hospital and look after patients: that's why we spend six years training and spend another 6-12 years training before we get to consultancy,'' Dr Anderson said.

"his strike is about wanting to be able to give safer care and maintain safer rosters: talking to the doctors, you can feel their frustration.''

Members of the union, the Resident Doctors Association, and district health boards have been in talks for a year on a new collective contract.

Dr Anderson - a paediatric registrar, local RDANZ organiser and a member of the national settlement bargaining team - said it was frustrating that 12 months of talks had ended up with one strike going ahead and a second one scheduled for later this month.

"What doctors are going on strike for is not for more - we are striking to keep our current contract and keep the terms and conditions which are protecting us at the moment.''

Dr Anderson said the main issue of contention was DHBs trying to scrap a requirement to consult with the union and local RMOS before varying employment conditions.

"That could mean a doctor could be asked to move hospitals on a regular basis, without consultation ... it also means they could vary the type of work we do, so the shift pattern could change.''

Payments for working anti-social hours, weekends and night shifts were also in dispute: "they want to take away loadings on those payments, which would effectively be a pay cut''.

More than 3000 resident doctors nationwide stopped work this morning and the strike has led to the postponement of hundreds of operations and appointments in the southern region.

All hospitals in the south have been affected by the strike, but remain open for emergencies and essential care - medical professionals are legally unable to strike unless plans are in place to provide life-preserving services.

"I know that I can walk away from the hospital, as uncomfortable as that feels, knowing that there will be a senior consultant and some very experienced staff looking after the patients for those two days when I am not there,'' Dr Anderson said.

Originally from Glasgow, Dr Anderson arrived in New Zealand just before the 2016 resident doctors' strike, when doctors secured "safe staffing'' rosters which included not being asked to work for more than 10 days straight and which limited the number of night shifts resident doctors could work.

While he supported the safer staffing rosters, they did not make the job less difficult or make maintaining a personal life any easier, he said.

"Every day you come in your workload is heavy, you don't know what sort of stressful situations you are going to be dealing with, you will be dealing with life and death and will be having difficult conversations, doing difficult procedures and undertaking difficult tasks, all of which have a direct affect on someone else's life.

"Getting work-life balance is important and it can be difficult ... but it's a vocation, you get into medicine because you want the best for your patients, and every day you can do that is fantastic.''

Southern DHB chief executive Chris Fleming said the organisation was ready for the strike and patients whose surgery or appointment had been postponed had been contacted.

"We appreciate the patience and understanding of those whose care has been disrupted, and thank all our staff who have been involved for planning for the strike action to ensure patients are safe and cared for.''


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