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De-valuing of nursing deeply worrying

New Zealand Nurses Organisation media release, 27 August 2020

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation’s (NZNO’s) College of Emergency Nurses (CENNZ) says the de-valuing of the nursing role evident in recent moves by the Canterbury DHB (CDHB) are deeply worrying, and that all New Zealanders should be concerned.

College Chair Dr Sandy Richardson says the loss of key personnel from the DHB such as Director of Nursing Mary Gordon, and the DHB Board’s decision to prioritise deficit management will have significant health effects.

“We’re looking at an anticipated $13 million cut in nursing staff costs. The willingness to target nursing whenever money needs saving is long-standing and shows a lack of awareness that patient safety is reduced when the number of nurses and skill mix is lower than required to meet patient need.

“It’s a failure to comprehend what nurses actually do and how vital their role is.”  

Dr Richardson said CDHB is unique in that Canterbury, the West Coast, Kaikoura and Marlborough have experienced ongoing and cumulative crises and disasters over the past decades, which have had a significant impact on the health system, the health workforce and community. 

“The ongoing effects of these remain in terms of physical, emotional and psychological reminders for people in these areas, and the health system has suffered financial, structural and institutional wounds – and now we have COVID-19. 

“Throughout this, nurses have continued to work effectively and efficiently, and to maximise savings.  There is no fat left to cut.  A nursing shortage already looms due to its ageing workforce, but the Board plans to reduce the number of new graduates being employed.”

Dr Richardson said the loss of important clinical voices and institutional knowledge resulting from the mass resignations is reminiscent of the 1998 Stent report which made 112 recommendations related to Canterbury Health. The investigation came after multiple warnings from clinical staff and professional organisations.

“Then Health and Disability Commissioner Robyn Stent recognised the damage done by cost cutting and loss of clinical expertise. Her report validated the warning letter sent by concerned staff ‘Patients are dying’. 

“This was centred on Christchurch Hospital and should be a reminder of the worst that can occur; but this seems to have slipped from the Board’s collective memory.”


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