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‘Desperate’ health system putting student nurses at risk

New Zealand Nurses Organisation media release, 26 July 2022

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa (NZNO) says nursing shortages have become so dire that Dunedin Hospital has called on nursing students to do tasks normally done by qualified nurses, placing the students at unacceptable risk. It wants to know what the Government’s plan is to keep nursing staff safe and to address the chronic shortage.

The students were asked to do patient-watch work, in exchange for a $200 Countdown voucher, because the hospital said it was ‘desperate’ for help as chronic understaffing was putting patient safety at significant risk. The students did not receive orientation training to the promised level, and one of the students was hit while working at the hospital.

NZNO student representative Manu Reiri said the students had little idea what the watch work involved, and most were unlikely to have been in a hospital ward before.

“They were supposed to be under the direction and delegation of registered nurses, which also placed employed staff at increased risk as they would be responsible for whatever mistakes were made under extremely busy and trying work conditions.

“A hospital resorting to this, against its own better judgement out of desperation, indicates just how critical the situation is.

“Dunedin Hospital is the employer responsible under the Health and Safety Act to anticipate and mitigate the risks arising from chronic staffing shortages, and the buck for that stops with the Government.

“We’ve been asking the Government what its plan is around safe staffing for more than a year, and there has been nothing of substance offered to date.”

Manu Reiri said the staffing crisis is worsening every day and that it was clear another approach is needed.

“We need to do things differently, and to manage that we need to be consulting and working together to ensure we are working on a plan to address understaffing in both the short- and long-term. This is what the Health and Safety Act requires and it is clearly not happening.

“Incidents like this are likely to happen again as desperation in the health system is everywhere. Dunedin Hospital did this under the radar and without working in accordance with the Health and Safety Act because it just didn’t see any other option, and that is deeply troubling.”


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

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