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Symptomatic nurses asked to return to work a clear sign of a desperate health system

New Zealand Nurses Organisation media release, Date 8 March 2022

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation | Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa (NZNO) says workers delivering critical health services, who are COVID-19 cases and who have no or mild symptoms, can now be asked to return to work in Covid wards.

NZNO Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku says this further change to the Public Health Order is just one more in a series of desperate changes put in place to address crisis-level nursing shortages.

“After years of neglect and a woeful lack of planning to address the shortage everyone knew was coming, we are now stuck in the middle of a serious pandemic with very few nurses available to fill the growing gaps resulting from underlying short staffing. And widespread absence due to Covid has only compounded the problem.”

She said nurses can still refuse to work if mildly symptomatic, but that many will be feeling the pressure not to leave their colleagues even further understaffed.

“Only individuals can judge how unwell they are, and we really encourage nurses to be careful in what they commit to as symptoms can change very rapidly. They need to put their own wellbeing first.

“And the DHBs must recognise their obligations to protect staff and the community and should be looking for extra ways to support and recognise nurses who agree to take on this additional burden.

 “They need to keep talking with us about how amendments to the Health Act are actioned and how the best interests of staff remain the priority.”

Ms Nuku said understaffing in the nursing sector is only going to get worse at a time we need it most and the Government has to take urgent action now to attract nurses who have left back into the workforce and recruitment drives to encourage people into nursing careers.

“We keep hearing from the top that things are fine and that hospitals are prepared, but those on the coalface say this is absolutely not true, and covid-positive nurses being asked to work while unwell is clear proof of that.”


Media inquiries: Rob Zorn, NZNO Media and Communications Advisor: 027 431 2617.

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