The New Zealand Nurses Organisation, Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa (NZNO) says it has supported the issuing of a provisional improvement notice (PIN) to Waikato Hospital’s Emergency Department (ED) in response to health and safety concerns arising from unsafe staffing levels.
A PIN legally requires an employer or service provider to address a health and safety issue before a certain time (in this case within nine days) and is a powerful step employees can take through their health and safety representative (HSR).
The PIN was issued today (Wednesday 2 August) at 10am by Janferie Dewar, a registered nurse who is also HSR for the ED, because severe staff shortages and unreasonable and unmanageable workloads have made the ED critically unsafe, and led to increased sick leave, burn out and resignations.
Ms Dewar says she issued the PIN representing workers in the ED, but that more than 150 staff across the hospital have signed a document in support of the notice - ranging from nurses to health care assistants, students, cleaners, paramedics and doctors.
"The PIN was also endorsed by a health and safety working group of 35 NZNO delegates and external health and safety advisors because, even after three letters of recommendation to Te Whatu Ora Waikato management since April this year, the health and safety risks in the ED have not been addressed to anywhere near an acceptable level.
"Despite ongoing meetings with management nothing significant has changed even though the ED is almost in code red by default.
"We’re at the point now where staff have had enough."
Other issues addressed by the PIN include Waikato Hospital not training health and safety representatives to the required NZQA standard (so they are not qualified to issue PINs); staffing levels significantly below requirements on a regular basis; and the hospital not following its own policies around escalation when safety risks become critical.
"There’s been a fundamental non-compliance with the employer’s primary duty of care to keep staff safe and provide reasonable workloads," Ms Dewar said.
"Other big employers in New Zealand have to comply with the Health and Safety Act by managing risk and ensuring workloads are reasonable for workers. Te Whatu Ora is an employer and should not be exempt from the law.
"It’s just not physically possible for one person to do the work of two or three nurses, but that is what is regularly required of staff, and the result has been chronic fatigue and anxiety. Their only relief from work stress is a quick and quiet cry in the toilets.
"Staff turnover is unprecedented, and a number are on stress leave as we speak so the situation just continues to worsen. The ED is in critical care deficit by the organisation's own risk scoring and this PIN is because the hospital is failing to meet its obligations under the Health and Safety Act.
Te Whatu Ora Waikato management have until 11 August to comply with the PIN’s recommendations.