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Nurse-to-patient ratios in Dunedin Hospital's emergency department are being stretched to as many as one to 10, Dunedin North MP Dr David Clark says.
Dr Clark, who is Labour's associate health spokesman, said nurses were carrying more than the standard accepted workload of one nurse to three patients in an ''increasingly desperate'' situation.
The Southern District Health Board said yesterday nurse-to-patient ratios on their own were not a measure of good patient care.
Dr Clark said that for critically ill patients, three nurses were required for each one.
Last Sunday in the ED, the ratio was one nurse to eight patients for almost an hour, Dr Clark said.
Typically, in Dunedin, nurses cared for four patients during the day, and five on night shifts.
However, on some night shifts they cared for 10 patients each.
''In such situations, one or two critical patients can tie up much of the available staffing resource, leaving the care of subsequent ED arrivals compromised.
''A First World health system should not put nurses in situations that blatantly breach professional standards.''
Dr Clark said management failed to deliver on a promise to work with nurses to improve the situation, after a stop-work meeting in Dunedin attended by about 300 nurses in February.
Nurses were routinely asked to fill 48 hours of shifts in a week.
''The situation in ED is increasingly desperate.
''It seems unnecessary risks are being taken when professional standards are not being adhered to.
''People who have spoken to me are concerned that they are being exposed to an unsafe environment, and that sometimes that means that patient care may be compromised.''
Asked if he was politicising the hospital's issues ahead of the election, Dr Clark said he had been approached with the concerns, rather than seeking them.
Health funding was a legitimate issue to discuss during an election campaign, he said.
If elected, Labour would review the population-based funding system thought to disadvantage the South, and would increase baseline health funding.
He believed the health sector was underfunded nationally, but the situation was more extreme in Dunedin, Dr Clark said.
Southern District Health Board acting nursing and midwifery director Jane Wilson said nurse-to-patient ratios were not, on their own, an accurate measure of the level of care required by patients.
''To the best of our knowledge, no reports of concern were elevated to the senior nurse on Sunday night.
''We continually work with the ED department in Dunedin to ensure safe staffing levels are maintained.
"Regular monitoring of staffing occurs 24 hours a day by our duty managers.
''When there are gaps in staffing due to unexpected staff sickness, unfilled vacancies or high numbers of ED patient presentations, nurses are sent to ED from areas that are less busy or from our resource/casual pool.''
The board tried to prevent staff working overtime, but sometimes this was necessary to ensure safe staffing, she said.
National MP and Dunedin North candidate Michael Woodhouse yesterday dismissed Dr Clark's claims as nothing more than ''desperate electioneering''.
''This Government has lifted Southern's annual funding to a record $833 million - over $120 million more than in 2008 - and there are now 116 extra nurses and 62 extra doctors employed by Southern DHB compared to 2008.
''The latest national health target results show Southern DHB achieved 93% for the shorter stays in emergency departments.
"This is a significant improvement from the 70% achieved by Dunedin Hospital when the targets were first introduced in 2009,'' Mr Woodhouse said.