The health system, already in critical condition, could collapse under the strain of an inevitable Omicron outbreak, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) says.
NZNO kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku says health care workers across all sectors, from district health boards to primary care and iwi providers, aren’t even coping with business as usual during summer with little Covid-19 in the community.
"We simply can’t keep up. Come Omicron, and come winter, we will see the system collapsing under the strain.
"That will mean our Covid patients will not get the best quality care. It will also cause delayed surgeries and cancelled clinics - which will hugely affect the population, especially when it comes to minimising preventable illnesses and treating diseases like cancer.
"We call this an emergency because it needs urgent action."
As of Tuesday, there are 29 cases of Omicron in the current cluster. There are 37 new cases of Covid-19 at the border. Of the 10 people who are in hospital with Covid-19, none are in intensive care or high-dependency units.
The nurses' organisation wants to see government-funded nursing recruitment drives, free nursing study, prioritised MIQ spots specifically for nurses and healthcare workers, supply of the best PPE, rapid antigen testing and robust home isolation procedures.
Nuku says they have had to battle to get a "half-decent" pay-rise for DHB workers and nurses have been left discouraged by how long that has taken.
“Pay equity must be extended to all nurses regardless of their practice setting. In fact, we haven’t even come close to addressing pay injustices for community care, the private workforce, and especially nurses working for Māori and iwi providers.”
NZNO is lending its weight to the Association for Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) and the New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) who say the understaffing situation is an emergency which, left unchecked, will have severe long-term repercussions for the health of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Nuku says there is an international shortage of nurses and Aotearoa has relied on staff from overseas for too long.
"Now is the time to act boldly, with the interests of workers at the fore because, without us, there is no health system. And with the health system under such threat, we will see here the social and economic devastation occurring in Australia and elsewhere."