Hiring freeze adds to worries of hospital staff

A hiring freeze on top of a chaotic patient management system has raised "huge concerns" about staffing at Dunedin Hospital.

The Public Service Association (PSA) organiser Poppy Stowell said the union was pushing for details following an internal email by Health New Zealand Te Whatu Ora (HNZ) announcing the freeze yesterday.

"Regardless, this is a huge concern and given the additional work pressures in Southern due to [the system issues], our members will be upset to learn that no resource relief appears to be coming."

The email said HNZ was spending over its current year budget, especially in hospitals and specialist services.

Dated yesterday and signed by chief executive Margie Apa, it announced an immediate hiring freeze for all non-frontline roles, and a new forum for approving recruitments.

"These new measures will not impact frontline services.

"Staff and patient safety and clinical delivery remain our priorities and will be considered when making decisions on which roles to progress."

Ms Stowell said the union had yet to learn whether the freeze would include administration staff who interacted with patients.

The assurance frontline staff would not be impacted seemed disingenuous, she said.

Administration staff were key to the smooth running of the hospital, supporting clinicians and enabling them to spend more time with patients.

A recruitment email auto response provided to the ODT stated that all recruitment activity was on hold pending more information.

"On top of that, it has become apparent that Southern is freezing all recruitment processes including those that are clinical," Ms Stowell said.

This comes as hospital staff continue to struggle with South Island patient information care system (Sipics), introduced at the hospital last November.

Workers called for the system to be improved earlier this year, for example with a staffing boost, as reported by the ODT in March.

Several staff said the system by plagued by random errors, from personal details in administration to patient notes written by nurses.

Not only did it pose a clinical risk, it took up to four times longer to use compared with the old system and left staff exhausted and burned out.

Ms Stowell said Sipics continued to present "significant challenges’, although the union understood the issues were complex and would take a significant amount of time to resolve.

"One key concern for our members is that this highlights the under-resourcing of the health system.

"All of this results in unmanageable workloads, poorer outcomes for patients, and stressed-out staff."

HNZ Southern group director of operations Hamish Brown said the IT team was supporting the transition of the new patient administration system.

"This month we are on track to upgrade some of the underlying infrastructure that will improve overall performance for users ...

"We are engaged with all staff using the system to ensure we can respond to needs and review [the] system performance as required."