Strike ac­tion is not some­thing the nurses are ‘morally com­fort­able’ with

Hawke's Bay Today - - FRONT PAGE - Astrid Austin astrid.austin@hbto­day.co.nz

Hawke’s Bay nurses on strike say they’re tired and are work­ing in un­safe con­di­tions — many say they’re now con­tem­plat­ing work­ing overseas.

In the words of one nurse who has been pushed to her lim­its: “I’m leav­ing. I’m done. It is un­safe.” Like many oth­ers around the coun­try, she was out on the foot­path, a plac­ard in one hand and a loud speaker in the other, de­mand­ing safer staffing ra­tios.

The sur­gi­cal nurse, who wished to re­main anony­mous, has been reg­is­tered for four years and said “bul­ly­ing is rife” as a re­sult of the con­di­tions and pay.

“We are so burnt out, it is just hor­ri­ble.”

So she plans to move overseas next year be­cause the pay and work­ing con­di­tions are bet­ter.

For 24 hours — from 7am yes­ter­day un­til 7am to­day — mem­bers of the New Zealand Nurses Or­gan­i­sa­tion (NZNO) took strike ac­tion, af­ter re­ject­ing the dis­trict health boards’ re­vised pay of­fer of 9 per cent for all mem­ber nurses by Au­gust 2019.

Nurses, mid­wives and health­care as­sis­tants cov­ered by the NZNO’s col­lec­tive agree­ment orig­i­nally is­sued a strike no­tice for 24 hours start­ing 7am on July 5 but it did not go ahead.

Chants and sup­port­ing toots from passersby could be heard all around the grounds of Hawke’s Bay Hospi­tal and sur­round­ing streets yes­ter­day.

Hawke’s Bay DHB NZNO lead del­e­gate Tar­ryn Wors­ley said their ul­ti­mate goal was to en­sure a bet­ter health sys­tem for every­body.

Nurses had a lot of re­spon­si­bil­ity and they de­served bet­ter staffing and re­sourc­ing to pro­vide qual­ity care for pa­tients, she said.

Carol, who did not wish to give her last name, has been a reg­is­tered nurse since 1989 and be­lieves the sit­u­a­tion “couldn’t be worse than it al­ready is”.

“Nurses pri­mar­ily have been un­der­funded for a long pe­riod of time. We want safe staffing on the wards, and we want to en­sure that the pa­tients get bet­ter care, with qual­i­fied nurses who can look af­ter them to the stan­dard that they ex­pect.”

She said strik­ing was not some­thing nurses felt “morally com­fort­able” with.

“It is a very hard de­ci­sion but we have been pushed to a point where we have had to take this level of ac­tion.”

Carol, like many oth­ers, was on call last night, de­spite strik­ing all day yes­ter­day.

“A lot of peo­ple are go­ing the ex­tra mile to make sure we get this mes­sage out to the gen­eral pub­lic.”

Sim­i­larly, Mike Con­nolly, who has been a reg­is­tered nurse for 30 years, 20 in New Zealand, said the pres­sure on nurses never stops.

“It’s now not just about the money. It’s a big­ger pic­ture is­sue — the staffing, un­der­re­sourc­ing and about the state of the health sys­tem which has been se­ri­ously un­der­mined by the Govern­ment.

“What I’m see­ing day in and day out over the past 20 years is more and more work be­ing put on nurses on the wards and in the com­mu­nity.” Con­nolly of­ten works through his breaks. Hav­ing worked as a reg­is­tered nurse in Eng­land and New Zealand, Mau­reen Lynch said she had bet­ter work­ing con­di­tions, par­tic­u­larly safety-wise, overseas than she does now: “Ex­pe­ri­enced nurses are go­ing to Aus­tralia or they are com­ing out of nurs­ing al­to­gether be­cause they are just spent.”

Act­ing Prime Min­is­ter Winston Peters’ mes­sage to strik­ing nurses is that the of­fer on the ta­ble is a “se­ri­ous” one but it is as good as it will get.

“We have made a se­ri­ous of­fer to the nurses with re­spect to both fund­ing, to ca­reer ad­vance­ment and also help with re­spect to 500 ex­tra nurses. That’s our of­fer and that’s the max­i­mum we can af­ford.”

He did not be­lieve pa­tient safety had been en­dan­gered dur­ing the strike.

“The nurses said they would en­sure pa­tient safety wasn’t im­per­illed and we ex­pect them to keep their word and I un­der­stand that is what hap­pened to­day, that there has been no dan­ger of that sort.”

Na­tional Party health spokesman Michael Wood­house said Peters’ re­peated pub­lic state­ments that there was no more money was “kick­ing the hor­nets’ nest”.

“To do that through the me­dia is a pretty in­flam­ma­tory re­sponse when the nurses are say­ing ‘let’s con­tinue to talk’.”

He said it was a gen­er­ous of­fer, but re­jected the Govern­ment’s claims that it was be­cause of the need to make up for lower in­creases un­der Na­tional’s nine years in power.

He said those were in dif­fer­ent times and the pay in­creases nurses had re­ceived were com­fort­ably above the rate of in­fla­tion.

“A ne­go­ti­a­tion by its na­ture is a two-way process. No­body can be forced into set­tling against their will. If they were un­happy with them there were op­tions they could have taken.

“The big­ger is­sue is that mas­sive ex­pec­ta­tions were set by a Labour Party which is now in Govern­ment and is not pre­pared to de­liver . . .”

Thou­sands of strik­ing nurses and sup­port­ers took to the streets from 7am as part of na­tion­wide in­dus­trial ac­tion af­ter re­ject­ing the lat­est of­fer of a 9 per cent pay in­crease from DHBs.

DHBs coped well with the strike, Cap­i­tal and Coast DHB chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer Dr John Tait said. It was a tes­ta­ment to the work put into con­tin­gency plans over the past three months and the ex­tra staff and vol­un­teers who had helped at hospi­tals.

NZNO in­dus­trial ser­vices man­ager Cee Payne said life-pre­serv­ing ser­vices and con­tin­gency plans were in place across the 20 dis­trict health boards.

“Pa­tient safety and pub­lic safety is para­mount,” Payne said.

Auck­land City Hospi­tal reg­is­tered nurse Gui Restall said she was strik­ing for a “hu­man rights is­sue”.

“It has been on­go­ing a num­ber years with un­safe staffing, and re­mu­ner­a­tion that does not re­flect our skills, ed­u­ca­tion and level of re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“Nurses are car­ers. We don’t like to do this. It has been 30 years since the last strike. We feel com­pletely un­der­val­ued.”

Wood­house said the lack of se­ri­ous in­ci­dents was a tes­ta­ment to the or­gan­i­sa­tion of the DHBs and the com­mit­ment nurses had made to en­sure life-pre­serv­ing care was still available.

“But it is ob­vi­ously a mas­sive dis­rup­tion to those who had been ex­pect­ing treat­ment or clin­i­cal ap­point­ment and they have been can­celled. So hope­fully this will be the first day and the last.”

Peters dis­missed as ir­rel­e­vant the ar­gu­ment that the Govern­ment could af­ford $2.3 bil­lion to re­place the Royal NZ Air Force Ori­ons with four P8A Po­sei­dons, an­nounced this week. It was “not an ei­ther-or sit­u­a­tion”. “If we don’t make that in­vest­ment in our de­fence, in our se­cu­rity, our pro­tec­tion of our mar­itime as­sets, our fish­ing as­sets and a whole lot of other things to do with our fu­ture, then we’ll have no money for any­body, in­clud­ing the nurses.

“They are part of a holis­tic pic­ture of money that has to be spent and we’d clearly like more but we haven’t got it.”

Peters said the nurses should be re­al­is­tic about what could be done in the short term.

“We are not un­sym­pa­thetic . . . but, again, we have to be re­al­is­tic. All we are say­ing is give us a chance and we will help you, but we can’t do it all in the space of one Bud­get.”

All we are say­ing is give us a chance and we will help you, but we can’t do it all in the space of one Bud­get.

Winston Peters

Pho­tos / Paul Tay­lor

Nurses na­tion­wide, in­clud­ing out­side Hawke’s Bay Hospi­tal, took strike ac­tion yes­ter­day over “un­safe” work con­di­tions.

Photo / Greg Bowker

Protest­ing Auck­land nurses strive to make their voices heard in Aotea Square.

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