Kerri Nuku, Kaiwhakahaere
Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa NZNO
Health is the ultimate political football in Aotearoa. Every party in power tries to use it to their advantage, to impose their short-term ideals onto health and – even worse – to only focus on the surface issues so they look like they’ve done something. We can’t let politicians keep doing this at the expense of people’s health and lives.
Opposition parties are willing to tear each other down over failures, even though they’ve all helped gut the system we have today. Yet when in power, rather than be accountable and effective, they tinker around the edges, failing to address the systemic issues.
Politicians go on three yearly cycles, during which time they’re mostly better at destroying than creating. But unlike them, our voice and our work is constant. We must urge for a common public health approach based on the idea that all people deserve the best health care, and all workers deserve the best conditions. If we don’t take control of the political narrative, governments will continue trying to distract people from the real health issues.
To do this we must fight the anti-Māori and anti-union rhetoric on the right. We need to stake our claim as experts of our own field and fiercely protect our profession. The current workforce crisis is going to require some immediate fixes and a long-term strategy which will require nursing to be part of the planning.
COVID has brutally exposed the nursing shortage. While the obvious course should have been to build the nursing workforce, this has not been the case. Instead, changes to the Health Act further undermined and eroded nursing by extending the scope of an unregulated workforce to bridge the shortfall.
We have a 4000+ nursing workforce shortage and the international Council of Nurses reports a 4.6 million nursing shortfall worldwide, so I repeat: if nursing is going to be the political football we need to control the narrative!
Political parties need to consider how we are going to make nursing attractive again, how are we going to make nursing a career choice for school leavers, support them through their training and graduate them into good jobs. How are we going to support and retain the nurses currently in the workforce by valuing their work, protecting their health and safety, including deconstructing the pay disparities that continue?
I have been inundated with calls of immense distress from nurses, health care assistants and kaimahi hauora upset and powerless to speak out against what they are witness to: care choices and negative outcomes driven as a direct result of nursing shortage.
If only our nursing crisis was as simple as a hospital drama tv show – but when a nursing shift finishes the emotional debrief plays out in your head hours after leaving the workplace, or wakes you from your sleep as you try to remember whether or not you signed that form, or what you need to do today, or whether there will be enough staff on the next shift.
Nursing is not a drama – nursing is real and it’s up to us to ensure that Government responds to the needs of the people, not us having to bend to their whims.