Nurses face chronic understaffing and consider leaving the job

By Jessica Tyson

They've been called the backbone of our healthcare system, but New Zealand nurses are tired, feeling unsafe at work, and increasingly wanting to leave.

Nurses had planned to go on strike today over staffing and wage issues but that was canceled because of lockdown.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation kaiwhakahaere, Kerri Nuku, says even before the Delta variant hit, nurses were burnt out.

“What we saw since last year is we've had a health system that’s been under incredible strain for a long time. We’ve had chronic understaffing, so when we’ve got nurses rising up to deal with Covid Delta variant of course everybody is a little bit more wary, a little bit more tired, says Nuku.

“Sometimes when that tank is running on empty people are making a decision whether or not this is actually the career they wanted to stay in.”

Reports have been made that nurses are not being given adequate PPE gear and nurses who live with close contacts are being asked to turn up for work.

“What we need to do is look at the resourcing that’s available throughout the whole of the system, so that’s frontline as well as what’s in district health boards, look at how we can ensure that’s it's safe, that we’ve got access to PPE gear when the nurses do go to work, ensure that the policies, the procedures are done with considerations and conversations are with health unions and not something that’s sprung upon us and then in a short time try and interpret what that means."

She says the Office of the Chief Nurse has been open to discussion.

“The issue we’ve had is we’re right in the middle of a pandemic. Planning intervention should have happened a long time ago, not just now.”

However, once the lockdown ends will be a time to focus on meaningful engagement and investment into nursing, says Nuku.

“At the moment, let’s deal with the crisis and make sure that those frontline workers, those hospital workers, ICU units have the resources that they need to get through this.”