Staffing still a struggle: DHB

Nurse shortages continue to hinder the Southern District Health Board’s efforts to achieve safe staffing requirements, despite its plans to do so being audited and approved.

Chief nursing and midwifery officer Jane Wilson said some southern wards had as many as 11 vacancies, and beds were having to be closed because nurses were not available to resource them.

Last Friday Dunedin Hospital had 28 beds closed because of staffing pressures.

Like most health boards, the SDHB was struggling to recruit nurses and remained dozens of full-time equivalents behind what it needed, Ms Wilson said.

The board had been budgeted to recruit 109 FTE and had advertised for 76 so far.

However, the board was last week endorsed as having fully implemented all necessary changes to meet care capacity and demand management (CCDM) requirements, one of only a handful of boards to have achieved this.

CCDM, also known as safe staffing, is a set of tools and processes for DHBs to match their capacity to care with demand from patients.

The board was meant to achieve its CCDM target by July, but had been delayed by Covid-19 lockdowns and preparations.

Members from the Safe Staffing Healthy Workplaces Unit — a joint initiative between the nurses’ union and DHBs — the New Zealand Nurses Organisation and a representative from Canterbury DHB evaluated the SDHB in October and last week provided a favourable report back.

However, Ms Wilson said that having successfully drafted the complicated staffing rosters needed to achieve safe staffing did not mean that all the nurses who should be on the wards were actually on the SDHB’s books.

"We have had 47 FTE offered appointments but of that quantum quite a number don’t commence until January because they are new graduates."

That was the largest number of new graduates hired by the board, and as well as hospital nurses included nurses starting in aged residential care, primary care and other areas of the health system, she told a board meeting this week.

"Out of the 47 one-third are healthcare assistants and two-thirds are registered nurses: we have really increased our healthcare assistance workforce and we have others we want to recruit to support ongoing work."

Only about 20 new FTE had already started, which reflected the challenges of finding staff, Ms Wilson said.

"That is were we are seeing the pain: we have this fabulous investment, but it’s really a challenge both here and nationally."

 - mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

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