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Dunedin nurses are being forced to ration care to patients because of a staffing crisis, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) says.
About 300 nurses attended a stop-work meeting this week with Southern District Health Board management about the situation, which affects both Dunedin and Wakari Hospitals.
The large turnout at Monday's meeting indicated the seriousness of the problem, NZNO acting industrial services manager David Wait said yesterday.
''[The nurses] made it very clear the staffing crisis was affecting patient care. Some nurses feel they are having to make choices about what care they can provide and what they can't, and that's an unacceptable situation for any nurse to be placed in, or any patient to experience,'' Mr Wait said.
Lack of nurses meant many doing double shifts, and missing meal breaks, he said.
Part-time nurses were working more shifts, overtime had become more frequent and the board delayed filling staff vacancies.
In times of high demand, some beds previously closed were reopened - but without the staff needed to cope with the extra beds.
The union wanted the health board to develop a plan to deal with the crisis, with input from nurses.
Monday's meeting was the largest of its kind in Dunedin for a long time, Mr Wait, who is based in Auckland, said.
NZNO associate professional services manager Hilary Graham-Smith said nurses ''must be heard'' when they had patient care concerns.
''Nurses are the DHB's biggest workforce, and want to be part of the solution to staffing problems. They must be included in any discussions about how staffing problems are to be resolved.
"If nurses and managers can work together and agree on a plan to solve the problem, then the outcomes will be better for patients, nurses and the DHB,'' she said.
Mr Wait said there were staffing difficulties across the DHB, but they were most acute in the board's two Dunedin hospitals.
Health board nursing and midwifery director Leanne Samuel said in a brief email response the meeting was a ''good opportunity to hear directly from our nursing workforce''.
''We value their hard work, dedication and their input into these issues.
''We have undertaken to work with them and NZNO to better understand these issues and help resolve their concerns and look forward to more engagement on the issues they have raised,'' Mrs Samuel said.