Nurse staffing worry

The nurses' union is disappointed the Southern District Health Board's answer to fears Dunedin is in the midst of a nursing staffing crisis is to set up a working party, rather than hire more nurses.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) associate professional services manager Hilary Graham-Smith, of Hamilton, said delegates were not entirely happy with the board's response.

Members wanted immediate action in the form of hiring new staff, not a ''talkfest'' and a new working party.

The board this week downplayed the concerns, saying its nursing staffing levels were ''suitable'', and it would work through concerns with nurses.

Asked yesterday if the union had exaggerated the problem, Mrs Graham-Smith said the union had not.

''You get 300 nurses along to a stop-work meeting. That to me is pretty indicative of some serious concerns,'' she said.

''Nurses don't turn up to those meetings just for the hell of it.''

About 300 nurses attended a stop-work meeting in Dunedin last week to put concerns to management about working double-shifts, missing meal breaks, and rationing patient care at Dunedin and Wakari Hospitals.

The union would meet board management again next week, and would further press the issue.

Readers' comments on the Otago Daily Times website yesterday criticised the NZNO's Dunedin branch for failing to stand up to the health board.

One comment said the Public Service Association (PSA) was better at handling health board issues on behalf of members.

''We will do whatever we can. We absolutely believe that there is an issue here to be resolved. But I'm not sure what the PSA would do differently, to be perfectly honest,'' Mrs Graham-Smith said in response to the comments of the ODT website.

She said the union favoured talking and negotiation, because it was sometimes counterproductive to be too critical.

''Speaking out doesn't necessarily achieve good outcomes either, because it gets people's backs up, and kind of closes the door on negotiation, whereas we would prefer to keep that door open ... to get some sort of satisfactory resolution.''

On the staffing crisis issue, NZNO has directed media comment through North Island union officials, rather than through Dunedin NZNO officials.

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