On a day when they are being acknowledged and celebrated through Nurse Appreciation Day, one group of New Zealand nurses have had to make the very difficult decision to take strike action.
NZNO Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa (NZNO) members at Gisborne Hospital’s Ward 5 will embark on industrial action for one hour on 24 May after a series of appeals for staff and patient safety have been ignored by the employer.
Tairāwhiti delegate Christine Warrander said the decision was made because they are incredibly concerned about patient safety and the existing situation continues to compromise patient care
Warrander said a provisional improvement notice (PIN) was issued on 20 December for Ward 5 in response to health and safety concerns arising from unsafe staffing levels.
"Acute and persistent staff shortages had resulted in untenable workloads, staff stress, increased sick leave, burn out and resignations."
But the situation has become worse since the PIN was issued, Warrander said.
"The system is falling apart, and no one is listening!"
Patient care nurses are calling on Te Whatu Ora to immediately focus on three key areas.
- Reduce beds from 25 to a maximum of 20.
- until such time as staff on Ward 5 in their professional judgement agree safe staffing levels are met.
- Increase staff to provide safe patient care.
Warrander said every time there was an acute staffing shortage, it meant a patient was at risk of not getting the correct care they needed.
"We used to be stretched taking five patients each, now it is not uncommon to have eight patients each which is completely unsafe and exhausting.
"If the fact that staff are working under immense stress and fatigue with unsafe workloads is raised to management, we are often told there is nothing they can do as the whole hospital is short.
Officially there is a Variance Response Management (VRM) programme, which provides tools to help decision makers provide the right staff numbers, mix and skills every shift, every day but often there is no staff for it due to chronic shortages.
"An example of how unsafe it is, I recently worked a shift where there were only three nurses on, we had only a few beds left on the ward and we were getting admissions, so we were having to overflow patients to other wards. That alone is time consuming in itself. It was raised with the duty nurse manager (DNM) that we were drowning, and it was unsafe. We had started the shift approximately nine hours in the negative, meaning we needed help.
"The DNM informed me that it had been escalated to management, but they had gone home for the weekend & there was nothing that could be done. A casual nurse from ED was able to come and help for a little bit. We ended the shift with having taken nine admissions and approximately 12 hours in the negative.
"Staff have nothing left to give and they are exhausted, and this is when the risk for mistakes is high."
The strike will take place from 1.30pm-2.30pm on Wednesday 24 May at the Gisborne Hospital.