Shortage of nurses is nationwide

Chris Fleming
Chris Fleming
Nurses and aged residential care facility operators have echoed the concerns of Southern District Health Board chief executive Chris Fleming about the dire shortage of workers to care for the region’s elderly.

Yesterday, the Otago Daily Times reported Mr Fleming’s assessment that the shortage of registered nurses in aged residential care, a problem he has been warning about for months, was "well beyond the critical point now".

Nationally, there is an estimated shortfall of about 1000 nurses, and many southern facilities have had to turn potential residents away due to staff shortages, and sometimes run shifts without a registered nurse on duty.

"Aged care loses nurses to the DHB every day because nurses at the DHB are paid more money than aged residential care, and if they look across to Australia they know that they will be paid even more over there," Heritage Life Care Ltd chief executive Norah Barlow said.

"It is an ongoing problem. People need to know about it, and it is a shame that we are part of it, but we try to be quite open about it because we believe that helps to resolve it."

Heritage operates Clutha Views Life Care in Balclutha, one of many facilities which had staffing issues highlighted by the Ministry of Health during its regular audits of aged care residences.

The latest ministry audit of Clutha Views noted it had insufficient staff at key times of the day, that staff were stressed, and that resident welfare was possibly being placed at risk due to staffing levels.

Mrs Barlow said that since the audit, Heritage had addressed the issues raised at Balclutha and its staffing levels were now "relatively OK", but said there were clearly not enough nurses in New Zealand.

"They get paid something like $15 an hour or more if they go to Australia. We don’t train enough nurses so we are reliant on immigrants, and when our borders have been closed for so long and visas are difficult — and also family visas when a nurse wants their loved ones to join them — the whole of New Zealand is suffering and smaller towns suffer worse."

Mrs Barlow said all nursing sectors were "ridiculously short" of nurses but aged residential care especially so.

Local nurses agreed with Mrs Barlow’s assessment of the difficulties in attracting and retaining staff.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation professional nursing adviser Michelle McGrath said she could not speak for residents but, for the staff who were caring for them, shortages were very stressful, mainly because time available to give proper care was suffering as a result.

"In rest-homes now, you are lucky if the residents are able to move independently so they need a higher level of care."

NZNO Dunedin organiser Karyn Chalk said southern nurses were leaving aged care, partly due to better pay elsewhere but also due to stress.

"They do it because they love working with these people and they are leaving because they are so burnt out. They are leaving because they feel they have no choice any more and it breaks their heart when they leave, it’s not just a money thing."

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