Rostering a big issue for striking junior doctors
Junior doctors are walking off the wards to preserve a number of protections they say are under threat.
The doctors, known as resident medical officers (RMOs), will embark on the first of two 48-hour strikes from 7am today as negotiations between district health boards and the largest junior doctors’ union, the New Zealand Resident Doctors’ Association (RDA), falter.
As a result, scores of nonessential appointments, procedures and clinics have been postponed across the country; however, life-preserving care and emergency treatment will not be affected.
Hutt Hospital senior house officer Dr Will Blackburne said that while the decision to strike was not taken lightly, doctors felt they had to draw a line in the sand. ‘‘We are still working 10 days in a row with at least a couple of 16-hour days within that 10-day period and that’s what we agreed to as a safer alternative to the previous rostering system.
‘‘The DHBs still aren’t very happy with that. They would prefer us to go back to working 12 days in a row but we think it’s certainly safer for us and for our patients to work in the current system.’’
DHB spokesman Dr Peter Bramley said the current rostering system did not offer flexibility and the ‘‘one-size-fitsall’’ approach adopted in 2016 did not suit all hospitals.
It had created a number of ‘‘unintended consequences’’, including staffing difficulties and challenges in maximising RMO training opportunities.
‘‘DHBs are absolutely committed to ensuring that all of our employees have safe working conditions and our primary commitment to our public is that we deliver safe care.
‘‘Many of the RMOs are wanting the change because it brings greater flexibility at other parts of their four or six-week roster to actually strengthen training and give greater periods of rest.’’
The haggling over the multiemployer collective agreement (Meca) began when the last agreement expired last February.
Pay, working and training conditions have also been chewed over during the stalled negotiations.
For Bramley, Nelson Marlborough Health chief executive, Friday’s news a second strike would take place came as more of a disappointment than a surprise.
However, he underscored the DHBs’ intention to return to the negotiating table. ‘‘We would be very keen to do so. We’ve put a number of variations around the issues which we’d love them to consider.’’
While it was ‘‘impossible to know’’ exactly how many doctors would strike, Blackburne estimated between 350 and 400 doctors from the Wellington region would be involved.
Nationally, the numbers ranged from about 2000 to as many as 3200 doctors.
The industrial action has forced all DHBs to establish contingency plans, with senior medical staff being called on to help.
‘‘We think it’s certainly safer for us and for our patients to work in the current system.’’
Dr Will Blackburne
Dr Will Blackburne, of Hutt Hospital, will be among scores of junior doctors taking strike action starting this morning.