Striking nurses at breaking point, constantly worried: union

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
Southern nurses go on strike tomorrow because they are fatigued, at breaking point, and constantly worried about patient safety, a local union organiser says.

Nurses at Dunedin, Southland and Lakes District hospitals join New Zealand Nurses Organisation colleagues nationwide tomorrow due to a pay offer from district health boards being roundly rejected.

Nurses will be off the job from 11am until 7pm, and they have not ruled out further industrial action.

"Current pay rates and conditions struggle to attract people into the profession and many members question the longevity of this career choice," Dunedin NZNO organiser Karyn Chalk said.

"The offer from the DHBs does not address these issues."

The Southern DHB has postponed surgeries, procedures and outpatient appointments scheduled for tomorrow due to the strike, but emergency departments throughout the region will remain open for urgent life-preserving care.

Rural hospitals in Gore, Balclutha, Oamaru, Ranfurly, and Dunstan, as well as general practices and most other health services, are not directly affected.

A Dunedin emergency department nurse, who did not wish to be named, said most days work conditions for nurses were concerning and they often felt worried for the safety of themselves and their patients.

"Patients come in and go out at quite a pace and I feel many times I wasn’t able to safely care for my patients or hand over some of those patients to the appropriate nurse.

"There is a huge risk of mistakes being made in regard to medications and notes and all sorts of other things.

"It is very disturbing and distressing to feel like you are not able to give patients the timely care that they require and that you are not able to at times fulfil the requirements that the doctors are asking of you."

Workloads were unsustainable in the short or long term and were affecting the health and wellbeing of all staff and patients, the nurse said.

A ward nurse said they were striking because their profession was undervalued.

"We are substantially underpaid for the amount of responsibility we have on a day to day basis and for the level of education we must undertake.

"We are chronically understaffed and picking up overtime is a must to ensure that our patients are cared for."

NZNO lead advocate David Wait said the only concession by DHBs in negotiations had been a lump sum payment of $4000 to nurses, but that represented a part payment on back pay for their still unsettled pay equity claim.

"Members know that lump sum payments do not lift actual rates of pay, which impacts on the long-term issues of a health system that values nurses and their work, attracts new people into the profession and encourages others back from overseas."

At a post-Cabinet news conference this afternoon, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she wasn't embarrassed by the threat of nurses moving to Australia, saying she saw it as part of the bargaining process.

The Government's focus had been on raising the incomes of the lowest-paid nurses substantially, and a 17% across the board increase was not viable in the current situation, she said.

Ms Ardern said said she would love to be able to lift wages, but it was not possible currently.

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

- additional reporting NZ Herald 

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