Questions over nursing levels

Concern health heads are ''robbing Nurse Betty to pay Dr Ropata'' by skimping on nurse budgets has been raised by a Southern District Health Board member.

Dr John Chambers added that as a doctor himself, a Dunedin Hospital emergency department specialist, he felt ''guilty'' that nurses were under pressure, while the board overspent on his own profession.

The health board has rejected claims from the New Zealand Nurses Organisation that Dunedin nursing is in crisis. 

Yet last night, it released a statement announcing it would employ an extra 18 graduate nurses, starting on April 28, and was recruiting 14 enrolled nurse new graduates.

Communications director Steve Addison said he understood the move was unrelated to claims more nurses were needed, but the Otago Daily Times understands at least some of the positions were brought forward from October. It was unclear how many positions were in Dunedin.

The board has closed beds to save money, but maintains it is not affecting patient care.

The issue was discussed at yesterday's board meeting in Invercargill.

Dr Chambers, who was elected to the board at last year's election, questioned whether board members were well informed, and whether various statistical measures presented each month gave an accurate representation of hospital problems.

He cited a couple of key measures that were not shown on a monthly basis.

Chairman Joe Butterfield said health budgets were difficult to predict, so it might look as though various areas ended up with too much, or too little money, but that was not necessarily the case.

Chief executive Carole Heatly said executive managers kept a close eye on critical indicators, viewing them frequently, including those cited by Dr Chambers.

The changes meant nurses were able to focus on clinical tasks, rather than jobs lower-skilled workers could do, she said.

Board member Richard Thomson encouraged managers to be as open as possible with information.

The board was ''in the middle of a firestorm'' because of media publicity, and a lack of information did not help, Mr Thomson said.

A report to the board members shows year-to-date spending (seven months to the end of January) on medical personnel was $3.6 million more than budgeted, and spending on nurses was about $600,000 less than expected.


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