Te Whatu Ora | Health New Zealand is working with the union and Tairāwhiti staff locally to address the health and safety concerns raised by the nurses at Ward 5 in Gisborne Hospital.

Chief executive of Te Whatu Ora, Fepulea'i Margie Apa says the hospital has two priorities – firstly, ensuring patients have the care they need and secondly, working with the union to address the pressure on the hospital and its staff.

“We know Gisborne needs more nurses and we are recruiting although it is very challenging in the current environment.

“We’ve also been working with the NZNO since before Christmas on a range of other measures to relieve the pressure on our nurses but the response to Cyclone Gabrielle means we haven’t made as much progress as we’d hoped.”

Those measures include reviewing patient demand daily and moving staff around the hospital to match patient care needs as appropriate.

“Senior clinical staff are regularly checking in with Ward staff and we’ve recruited additional staff to support nurses so they can have more time to spend with patients,” says Ms Apa.

“Te Whatu Ora accepts there are staffing pressures on Ward 5, what we can’t do is reduce the number of beds in the ward from 25 to 20.

“Ward 5 is an acute medical ward and patients can’t be deferred or turned away. The safest place for these patients is where the nurses with the most knowledge and experience about medical conditions are based – which is Ward 5.”

Te Whatu Ora sought an injunction to check whether the strike met the required legal tests for a health and safety strike. Unfortunately we had been unable to agree with NZNO on alternative ways of meeting the needs of staff and ensure continuity of care for patients.

“Striking for one hour will not remove those pressures – it will probably make them worse and transfer them to other parts of the hospital such as the emergency department or wards that may not have the specialised skills to care for the patients.

“Even planning for a strike puts a lot of added pressure on staff and diverts effort that could be applied to working together for a solution that meets the needs of our patients and our people,” says Ms Apa.

Te Whatu Ora will continue to work within the hospital and across the region to support staffing and have asked NZNO to re-engage and work with us to find a sustainable solution that meets the needs of our patients and our people.