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Give me the tools to do a good job

Female mechanic

A fast red car or nursing degree in my middle age? I decided on my long held dream of the nursing degree. So now, I’m part of a team of extraordinary professionals who remind me every day that flagging the fast car was the right decision. I love my job, I love and respect the people I work with and I care passionately about those I am charged to care for.

But, every day it’s getting harder. Harder to care the way I want to, the way I know I should and to care to the standard that my job description and Nursing Council expect of me.

This sounds emotive – it’s meant to be! Last time I looked I’d signed up for the ‘caring profession’, I’m paid to care – not to short change my patients. I didn’t for one moment, while studying, consider that I would have to factor ‘care rationing’ into my day. Care and rationing don’t even belong in the same sentence – It messes with a nurse’s head, it shouldn’t even be a concept!!

Most people have no idea how much these constant budget cuts impact on my ability to do my job. A few get a snapshot, when they are unwell and require medical help. If I’m lucky they are empathetic and understanding of the difficulties nurses face every day, they appreciate what we do and how hard we work.”

If the Minister of Health, Dr Coleman is going to name and shame hospitals who fail to meet the ‘ED Six Hour Target’, then he should be obliged to give the public the full story – the reasons why this is happening in the first place! Perhaps explaining that some EDs have increasing, unprecedented presentations – some patients very unwell, needing massive resource input, so others sit for hours waiting to be seen because there aren’t enough nurses or medical staff to keep the patient flow going. Or maybe that the hospital is in ‘bed lock’ – not a single bed, until hurried discharges are made – a short term solution, because some of those patients will be back in ED, sicker- requiring a higher level of care and  another admission. Or maybe that some days ED waiting rooms are full of patients who could have gone to their GP, but have left it too late, or couldn’t get an appointment, or didn’t have the money.

Nurses were voted the ‘most respected profession’ survey this year. I don’t feel respected by our government. If the government respected us and our work, they would make sure that nurses had the tools to do their job, and to do it well.  Our health service is being stripped so bare, many nurses are walking away or planning to. They’re done with the stress, the shifts that end in tears, not wanting to go back tomorrow.

I just want to be able to do my job properly, safely and go home knowing I’ve done a good job. Our health system should be given a realistic budget that allows it to function properly.

If we want things to change then it’s up to nurses to say so – nobody else is going to! So do we wait until the next pay round?  Do we wait for a nurse to make that error we all dread? Do we keep waiting… for what? It’s time to use the strength of our union to give the public the full story of what is happening to our health system and why that system is letting them down. To say nothing is negligent!

By NZNO member Ady Piesse

Photo credit under Creative Commons licence.


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The demise of democracy

RIP democracyNZNO industrial adviser for the DHB sector, Lesley Harry talks about democracy, privatisation and Southern district health board.

Last week the Minister of Health announced that Kathy Grant will stay on as commissioner of Southern district health board until 2019. Democracy is at a premium in the south these days.

Grant was appointed by the Minister in June and is paid more in a day than most nurses get in a week. Apparently her $1400 a day pay rate is due to the “personal risk to her reputation” of having to improve the DHBs finances in such a short period of time. To us, that’s a clear signal that Minister Coleman is aware that the cost-cutting and service-cutting that will ensue will be hugely unpopular.

Only time will tell as to the true cost of “savings initiatives” now that Grant and her team have an extra three years to deliver the required savings.

Grant has promised a “whole of system change with more care in the community, reducing waste and working in more efficient ways.”  Integration of primary and secondary services is on the agenda and this will likely lead to more hospital-based services being directed to primary services with PHO and other private providers having more say on the way health services are governed, managed and delivered.

We will have to wait and see what will be proposed, but I am concerned that this current Government will exploit the sacking of the Board and appointment of a commissioner to move towards more privatisation of public health services in the southern region as a model for the future.

The commissioner has delivered on her commitment for improved communication with DHB staff and stakeholders, with meetings and regular updates. Long may that continue.

Although, the commissioner’s goals appear laudable; it’s the how? and at what cost? we need to keep a careful watch on.

The citizens of Southland and Otago no longer have democratically elected representatives governing their health services. The Minister and his appointed commissioner have enormous power to implement change.  Whose interests will be served will remain unclear for longer, now that voters will have to wait until 2019 for democracy to be reinstated in the southern region.


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Memo Musa – conference address

Memo Musa AGM4Last week NZNO held its AGM and conference. This year around 300 delegates and college and section members met at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa to discuss and make decisions about our organisation, nursing and the wider health sector. We learned new skills, to celebrated our successes and took up the challenges that were laid down.

Our new elected leaders were welcomed and our our departing leaders were thanked for their mahi. One of the highlights of the AGM and conference were the wonderful speakers, from within NZNO, around the motu and throughout the world. 

Here is the address given by NZNO chief executive, Memo Musa on the morning of the first day. 

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa

I am Memo Musa, Chief Executive of NZNO.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to NZNO’s 22nd Annual General Meeting. And to our exhibitors and sponsors who are here today and for conference tomorrow, welcome. I know that Marion and Kerri have welcomed you already but it is important that I do so too.

This is my second report to the AGM on NZNO’s performance during the past financial year.

I hope you have had the opportunity to read our Annual Report 2014/15 and reflect on our operational and financial performance as well as our achievements.

I would like to take a few minutes to take you through some of the key highlights of the year. Before I do so, I would like to comment briefly about the AGM today. You will have seen from the information you received that we have a total of seven remits and twelve policy remits. These should provide us today an opportunity to fine tune some aspects of the constitution as well as debate or discuss policy matters that are important to you and require our collective action as an organisation. I accept that it is a democratic process to amend aspects of the constitution. I would like to sound alarm bells that this can equally create a state of inertia as it makes it difficult to work within rules that are continually changing. That said, some improvement are required.

Back to key highlights from the past year:

We started the year with five priorities.

  • To increase and maintain membership
  • To increase the visibility of NZNO’s role as a professional association of nurses
  • To promote nurses and the nursing profession
  • To contribute to health sector workforce planning
  • To improve organisational health

Strong operational management and transparent reporting are critical to the long term success and creation of value. This is why, with support from the Board, during the past two years we have completely revamped the Annual Report to give you more information, detailed highlights, successes and challenges. This provides us an opportunity to celebrate successes and face up to what we could have done better. Often we hear that we do not celebrate or showcase our successes enough.

Now the key highlights. I will only pick a few to illustrate key points.

Increase and maintain membership

The biggest challenge for any member organisation is maintaining membership, let alone increase it. Membership levels have a big impact on the viability and sustainability of NZNO.

The solid work you are doing, including the work by our organisers, industrial advisors, professional nurse advisors and other staff through our organising ethos, models and approaches, including our communication, has resulted in us maintaining our membership numbers at above 46,675 based on 2013/14 year with a very modest increase of 103 members to 46,778 members.

Our biggest growth was in the registered nurse members were we saw an increase of 918 members from the previous year totalling 35,275. This makes up 72 percent of practicing registered nurses. According to the Nursing Council there are 48,406 registered nurses practicing.

However we had challenges with student nurse membership which declined from 4,225 in 2011 to 2,700 by the end of March this year a drop of 36 percent. This a concern we must address.

Fellow colleagues, we cannot ‘rest on our laurels’ when it comes to membership, as during the past five years union membership in New Zealand has been in decline.

In 2010 there was a decline of 2.1 percent

2011 it fell by 1.3 percent

Then 1.4 percent in 2012

By 2013 it had fallen by 2.0 percent and at the end of March 2014 this had fallen by 1.8 percent. I am waiting for the 2015 figures to be published. My guess is that the same trend will continue.

Whilst overall we are doing better than some unions and professional associations we have room to improve.

Increasing NZNO’s role as a professional association

Promoting nurses and the nursing profession

At our AGM last year some of you may recall my report and reflections. I stated that advocacy and lobbying are at the core of what we do to advance the agenda for nursing teams both from an industrial and professional perspective. Being an election year, I observed that on one hand there is a sense that we are not visible, not adversarial or political enough, that we need to be out there and showing leadership on key issues, on the other hand some argue and lament that we are politically biased or in favour of a particular political leaning whilst others say we are negative and adversarial, whilst other say we are doing ok.

The profile of our role as a professional association, promoting nurses and the nursing profession is critical to our future existence at the same par as membership.

Demonstrating relevance and value add to patient outcomes, healthy families and communities should be the cornerstone or platform upon which we build our profile as an association and by promoting nurses and the nursing profession.

I am pleased to report that during the last year we continued to push forward our agenda to promote NZNO, nurses and the nursing profession by increasing our clarity of relevance and value add.

On Wednesday 28 August 2013 the main headlines in the Dominion Post read “Nurses ration patient care” “Families pitch in as staff stretched”. This article reported nursing shortages at Wairarapa and Hutt Valley hospitals stating that nurses are ‘rationing’ their care to patients. It referred to essential care being prioritised over patient ‘comfort’ or ‘non-essential’ tasks.

The following day Thursday 29 August 2013 the main headline read ”Rationed care cuts deep says patients” reporting that ‘care rationing in understaffed hospitals is affecting basic medical needs as well as comfort, patients say.”

There was the usual follow up discussion and debate in the media and between nurse leaders with attention being on nurses’ decisions and actions about patient care when faced with nursing shortages or the wrong skill mix.

What was missing in all the dialogue was the fact that in reality it was not nurses rationing care, it the public health system; the way it is funded resulting in not having enough nurses, inadequate time, and the right skill mix to provide complete care.

Our policy and research teams, with member input and consultation, developed a position statement on Care Rationing which was presented to all District Health Boards, the Ministry of Health and the Minister of Health. This helped change the dialogue and inform the debate on this very complex area which often is very emotive.

You will hear about this more this afternoon.

We also embarked on a project to increase the visibility of nurses of which the first phase establish a theme which is “Nurses – Making the Difference in Healthcare”. A website has been set up where nurses can share stories. You can access this through our website under the campaigns banner. The second phase involves identifying and training nurse champions. A third phase to promote and increase the visibility of nursing is yet to commence.

You will hear more about this in more detail this afternoon.

Another highlight is our work is with the Service and Food Workers Union Ngā Ringa Tota on the campaign for equal pay “All the way for equal pay”. The sterling legal defence work which saw the Court decline Terranova’s leave to appeal on and directing the Employment Court to establish equal pay principles to resolve the equal pay claim.

Again we will hear about this in more detail this afternoon.

One last key highlight under this section is the work we do to represent members, whether it be through Health and Disability Commissioner investigations, employment related matters, Professional Conduct Committee and Health Practitioner’s Tribunal hearings. Approximately 237 ‘events’ were taken up involving more than about 3000 members. We noticed an upward trend in the request for representation and the number of complaint against nurses which are being made to the Health and Disability Commissioner. We have also noticed an increase in the number of nurses that the Health and Disability Commissioner finds in breach of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumer Rights. Last year we challenged the Commissioner by asserting that some of the breaches could be at the system level not the individual nurses’, and primarily caused by inadequate funding which leads to poor staffing levels impacting on patient care. We asked him what approach he intended to take to address some the breaches we considered to be at a system level. His response was that his concern was “primarily to assess the quality of health and disability services” and the system issues I had raised were better addressed by District Health and and/or the Ministry of Health’. This I found astounding.

Fellow colleagues, I will make no apologies for saying that if we fail to show relevance and to add value it will be to our detriment. Some antagonists might think what we do is ‘all about us’. Clearly that is not true. Promoting the profession of nursing and nursing standards is a key foundation to strive for recognising the mutual interdependency with our industrial focus and that getting the balance right is very critical.

Contribute to health sector workforce planning

I am going to tell you something you already know.

Nursing is the biggest workforce in the New Zealand public health and disability system. According to a report on health workforce released by the Ministry of Health and Health Workforce New Zealand in November last year, nursing makes up about 54 percent of the regulated health workforce in New Zealand, based on annual practicing data of all regulated professions. Internationally there are between 16 and 19 million nurses according to estimates by the International Council of Nurses.

We are the backbone of the public health and disability system. We nurses are everywhere, in patient’s homes, general practice, clinics, hospitals, prisons, community homes, residential care, education, research units, management and leadership, policy development and regulation.

After many years of advocating and lobbying for a national workforce plan for nursing, last year we were successful, together with other nurse leaders, in convincing Health Workforce New Zealand to set up a national nurse workforce programme. Whilst progress continues to be slow, a joint governance group and working group have been put into place. The areas agreed to be given priority attention are:

  1. Improving the integrity of nursing workforce information and data
  2. Graduate nurse employment
  3. Nurse retention
  4. Nursing workforce plan

This is a major step forward. However results are yet to be evident.

On the New Graduate Employment front the online petition urging the Minister of Health to fund a one year Nurse to Entry Practice Programme for every graduate nurse drew more than 8000 signatures in a week. Thank you to all who contributed to this petition. This resulted in two key achievements as steps in the right direction:

  1. Additional funding of $2.8m per annum from this year was granted by the Minister of Health to fund an additional 200 places.
  1. The eligibility period was increased from one year to two years.

This firmly remains on our horizon with a goal of 100 percent funded places by 2018.

We got behind, supported and were involved in the proposal by Auckland University for a funded nurse practitioner education programme linked to employment. It took a long time for this to work its way through the bureaucracy of Ministry of Health and Health Workforce New Zealand. Eventually funding was granted for a programme to commence in March 2016. Auckland and Massey universities will run this programme.

We supported the Nursing Council’s application for nurse prescribing. This is important as an enabler for us to work at the top of our scopes of practice; which in time will result in an increase to access to nurse-led services for vulnerable populations and those with long-term health conditions.

Working with the Fiona Unac, Chair of the Perioperative Nurses College we saw Auckland University endorse a new Certificate of Proficiency for Registered Nurse Assistant to the Anaesthetist.

The work by the Enrolled Nurses Section to develop a dedicated Supported Entry to Practice Programme was completed. Now the challenge that lies ahead is to advocate and lobby for this to be funded.

Lastly we successfully got onto the Governance Group for the Kaiāwhina Workforce Action Plan. This was in response to concerns raised by the Enrolled Nurses Section. We argued that the Kaiāwhina workforce is a continuum of the nursing team, and that it is important that the action plan be developed within that context. This will remain a challenge but we will continue to influence, advocate and lobby.

Workforce development is complex with multiple strands to which we need to be tuned into all the time. There is no ‘one size fits all’ and our messages on these areas going forward need to be targeted at getting results for you.

Improve organisational health

Improving organisational health is controversial and a challenging philosophical concept.

From a financial perspective we are making in-roads into recovering financial losses from the past. We ended the year with a positive financial result which David will present to you later. The Board has worked hard with me and the Management Team to tackle a few areas to manage costs.

We should always be mindful and keep an eye on our financial reserve and not to use them to support organisational operational structures. Alarm bells should ring if we head in that direction.

Our staff are key to the achievements and the highlights I have reported on and those in the annual report. I applaud their commitment and relentless effort, their willingness to go the extra mile to do what is right for members. In response to key pressures we supported our staff by putting more resources into the following areas;

  1. Professional Nurse Advisors, an increase from 7.7 FTEs to 9.1 FTEs with a focus on Hamilton and Christchurch.
  2. Industrial Advisor increase of 0.5 FTE
  3. Finance Office 1.0 FTE

These organisational growth areas are in response to our commitment to get to member issues quickly.

Fellow colleagues from time to time you will hear all sorts from people about what is happening within the organisation.

I will stress to you that you need context and background to know what is going on and sometimes what you hear may not be correct and other times it may be. It pays to contact me directly on operational matters.

In conclusion,

My assessment is that NZNO has done well during the past year. Some of you may say not enough in some areas, and I acknowledge that.

We can never do enough!

Acknowledgements

I would like to place on record my sincere appreciation of the work you have done in the past year and will continue to do this year, the work done on your behalf by our staff and the support of the Board and Management Team.

I will mention again the point I made at last year’s AGM

“What we do comes with its own challenges and tensions but let us remember and work together as united we stand, divided we fall. We are one profession with many roles and voices, we are a collective and together we can continue to make a massive influence. Together we make an effective team.” Together we can be effective in shaping healthcare in New Zealand.

Lastly but not least I would to thank all our exhibitors and sponsors at this AGM and conference tomorrow.

I hope you enjoy the AGM and conference and that you get the best networking opportunities, so you can take away important ideas to innovate and to champion for changes in whatever health setting you work within.

No reira tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

 


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Playing politics with safety statistics

IMG_4303Over the last few days there has been a roaring debate over changes to health and safety law. The law was revised after the Pike River disaster claimed 29 lives. The Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety said “The number of people harmed at work is about enough to fill Eden Park four times. This is simply not good enough.”

The changes were supposed to reduce the unacceptably high rate of preventable workplace injuries and deaths (our rates are six times that of the U.K.) but instead, the Government is actually reducing the requirement for Health and Safety Representatives at workplaces, instead of fixing the law. They are removing this vital safety check from all businesses with under 20 staff, even if the employees request one, except for ‘high-risk’ industries.

Some of the industries the Government has classified as ‘high-risk’;

  • Rabbit breeding
  • Lavender farming
  • ‘Amusement’ like mini-golf and video-game parlours
  • Dog racing
  • Fur dressing.

Some of the industries that the Government has not included as ‘high- risk’

  • Beef, dairy, deer and poultry farming
  • Tree-pruning
  • Work in mental health, addictions, prisons or dementia units

How can this be?! The Government has categorised industries according to figures for workplace deaths and accidents since 2008. But the way industries are grouped seems suspicious – ‘cattle farming’ is separate from ‘other livestock farming’ for example. We know that farmers are just one of the groups who lobbied the Government to water down the bill. And it is not clear at all how the industry categories and statistics have been put together.

The only health industry listed is ‘Pharmaceutical and Medicinal Product Manufacturing’ under ‘Potential for Catastrophic Risk’ (!).

It is absurd that the Government has missed all other kinds of health work when, for example, there is an average of one physical assault on staff every day at Capital and Coast District Health Board. It’s not dissimilar in other DHBs; Waikato DHB reported 85 physical assaults on staff and 132 total assaults in the first four months of this year.

Nursing in challenging environments like prisons requires a very high level of skill and a high degree of personal risk. Any clinical health work can be physically challenging, with intense lifting, turning, and physicality, as outlined in our last blog on nurses’ health and safety.

Finally, not all workplace harm gets accurately recorded as an ‘injury’. High stress and workloads are recognised as common workplace hazards that cause physical and mental harm if not managed properly. Environments like hospices, oncology units and crammed emergency departments all have the potential to pose high risks to staff well-being.

It’s never going to be possible to eliminate every risk to health and safety. Health and safety depends on many different elements that are unique to each workplace. That’s why Health and Safety Representatives are so important for all workplaces.

Bending to the will of powerful lobbying interests will always result in wacky outcomes, but there is a simple answer that makes sense: one health and safety law for all.

 

 


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Working to stay safe

Fb picYou’ve probably heard a lot in the news recently about the Government’s back-track on improving health and safety laws. After the Pike River tragedy the Government promised to improve health and safety legislation – so that no family would ever need to have the police turn up and tell them that their loved one was killed on the job – but instead they’re doing the opposite.

We speak to a nurse about what health and safety means to her.

Why does Health and Safety mean so much to you as a nurse?

Firstly, for us in hospitals, I know lots of colleagues that have had accidents at work, twisted knees and backs from lifting. There’s an immediate loss of earnings for that person, they’re down to 80 percent of their earnings on ACC, because our DHB doesn’t top them up, unless we use our sick leave allowance. And then someone on ACC isn’t usually replaced with another staff member, so we get short on the wards.

What happens then?

The first thing to go is meal and tea breaks. Nurses are terrible about working through without taking a break and just running between patients. Then, they’re likely to have more accidents because they are rushing, or even make medication errors or errors of judgement. So it starts having an impact on patient care too. And care rationing definitely happens when you have a staff member off injured. That’s when you decide what is going to keep people alive versus the best care you could give someone.

Can you give us an example?

Like, if you have someone who needs a shower, an elderly patient who hasn’t showered, giving that gentleman a shower might take 40 minutes, but you just can’t afford the time. Basic care like that could get missed. It’s so much easier to prevent accidents from happening than dealing with the flow-on effects of when they’ve happened. That’s why having effective Health and Safety strategies is so critical for everyone. Not just in big workplaces too but in all healthcare settings.

You deal with workplace accidents when people come in as patients too, right?

What people have to understand is that Health and Safety matters to nurses not just for our own workplace but because after a workplace death or accident, we have to come in to fix up the mess. It’s incredibly stressful dealing with a workplace death. When you clock off at the end of the day, it goes home with you. Every accident or death like that has ripples that go far afield and affect many people. And they come back to us too.

What you mean by ‘coming back to you?’

Oh, nurses treat the aftermath of those things with grieving friends and family too, in areas like addiction or depression. Or even poverty, some whole families have to deal with the grief and being thrown into sudden poverty. And then they’re back in the health service with stress and diseases that wouldn’t have happened if their family member wasn’t killed or injured. It’s never just one person affected, and it’s health staff as well.

It’s not just deaths, it’s accidents. Not everyone is covered by ACC so sometimes it’s a choice between their health and their income. When you see a bad employer that thinks workers lives don’t matter a lot it’s really disgusting and you know they think it’s going to cost less in dollar terms to just replace a killed or harmed worker than to invest in health. It costs the rest of us though, we pick up the tab.

There was a case recently, a woman who worked for a really well known New Zealand company, one that’s won awards, that you’d think could do better. She’d hurt herself at work. The operation was the only chance to avoid a permanent disability, but it entailed time off.  She told me that she couldn’t take time off because her boss wouldn’t keep the job open, and she wouldn’t get another one.  She had a family to support and felt she had no choice.  I’m pretty sure she would have gone straight back to work, and as a result of that will have an avoidable and permanent disability.

Do you have a message for the Government about the Health and Safety Reform Bill?

‘Yeah but you can’t print it! No, seriously, good health and safety reps can prevent these kinds of accidents when the attitude to them is positive and constructive and management takes them seriously. The Government has to give the message that they’re important and can’t be removed if they’re a ‘nuisance’ to bad management. We have to look at workplaces where they have health and safety committees that work and where there is a good record of improvement. What works is when unions and workers and employers are doing it right and engaging together. We didn’t have to lose all those lives and Pike River and we shouldn’t be losing any more in other industries now. Everyone has a responsibility.


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The Budget and the MECA

scalpel12This past week has been a busy one. Thursday 21 May was Budget Day. It’s a day we are always on the edge of our seats, hoping for a plan for health that delivers for our members and all New Zealanders.

And the day after that we held our final meetings about the offer from DHBs for our multi-employer collective agreement. The results of those meetings did not surprise us but what we didn’t expect was the extent to which NZNO members working in DHBs rejected the DHBs’ offer. Over 82 per cent voted no.

This years’ Budget does not provide enough funding to meet the health needs of New Zealanders. In order to meet the costs of rising prices, an increasing population, an ageing population, an ageing health workforce, long overdue decent wage increases, new services etc etc, we estimate the funding allocated is at least $260 million short.

District Health Boards (DHBs) are short-changed by at least $121 million. And we know almost all of them are already struggling to manage massive deficits, meaningless health targets and the continuing push from government to “centralise” services at any cost.

How are DHBs going to deal with the likely flow-on impacts on safe staffing, workplaces that are healthy for staff and patients and quality care?

Nurses, midwives, caregivers and other health care workers are telling us they are already stretched to the limit. Some are having to sacrifice tea and lunch breaks and are working unpaid overtime just to keep up with the care they need to give to ensure needs of patients are met. Support for training and development is decreasing. Stress levels are rising and morale is low.

And it’s not only DHBs that are bearing the brunt of reduced spending. Efforts to reduce poverty related illness are not being tackled in a “joined-up” way.

Health workforce planning is proceeding at a snail’s pace. New graduate nurses are still looking for jobs that aren’t there. Older nurses are still being pressured to work night shifts.

Health workers need a fair deal to cope with the increasing demands that are being placed on them.

And this means we need to stand together to make progress in our bargaining with the DHBs for our multi-employer collective agreement.

NZNO members working in DHBs don’t feel valued. They instructed the negotiating team to retain what’s already in the MECA, secure a decent pay increase, improve access and support for professional development and advance safe staffing and healthy workplaces.

The DHBs’ offer clearly didn’t cut it. They need to do better for their largest group of workers.

We’re heading back into bargaining on Thursday with a clear mandate: the offer must be improved. Nurses can no longer continue to take up the slack for a sick health system.

We can’t do all the work here! DHBs need to take some responsibility for advocating for the funding that provides appropriately for every member of staff and every patient. New Zealanders won’t settle for anything less.


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Southerners won’t back down

Nurses at Dunstan hospital celebrate International Nurses Day

Nurses at Dunstan hospital celebrate International Nurses Day

Southerners are gutted to hear of a five percent funding cut to their network of rural community hospitals in Oamaru, Ranfurly, Dunstan, Balclutha and Gore.

And if that’s not bad enough, there will be reviews of health services and no increases for changing costs or population. What that means is that if the population of your town increases, there won’t be any corresponding increase to health funding.

Hospitals are still working out what impact this will have on services and each hospital will be affected differently. What we do know is health services are under threat and so are many jobs.

At the same time, Southern District Health Board (SDHB) has announced plans to contract out and privatise its food service, with frozen meals being driven down from Auckland, in a further attempt to save money that threatens local jobs. We can see no sense in that whatsoever!

So why is all this happening? Southern DHB’s financial situation is pretty grim – they are $27 million in the red this financial year and are predicted to be at a $42 million financial deficit next year. When DHBs are squeezed this tight, something has to give. This time it’s the health of our rural communities, not to mention their nutritional needs!

While we don’t know all the reasons for their financial woes, or why they are so much worse off than other DHBs, we do know that a contributing factor is the year in, year out, underfunding of health services in New Zealand [pdf].

It’s this Government’s seventh budget this week, and they’ll be announcing funding for health for the next year. If they get it wrong, we’re looking at losing local jobs and local health services. Without more money coming in, it’s hard to see how Southern DHB will be able to preserve all the health services the population needs.

It’s not fair that valued local services, through no fault of their own, have to bear the brunt of Southern DHB’s deficit. NZNO will be working constructively with the affected rural hospitals to save services and protect member’s jobs. Not only will these cuts put patients’ health at risk, but removing skilled jobs from the regional economy impacts on the region’s long term financial health.

This ends up costing the Government more in the long run through health, social services, and other agencies. Southerners understand this, and we will be backing them all the way to find healthy and sustainable solutions to the District Health Board’s financial crisis.

Watch this space for NZNO’s response, and updates on the Southland and Otago rural hospital network plan for dealing with the cuts.