18 Jan 2017

'Manageable': Hospitals face final day of junior doctors' strike

8:02 pm on 18 January 2017

Major hospitals and their emergency departments remain busy on the second day of a three-day strike by junior doctors.

Christchurch Junior Doctors Strike

Junior doctors in Christchurch during a 48-hour strike in October. Photo: RNZ / Andrew Collins

Junior doctors at 18 of New Zealand's 20 district health boards walked off the job early yesterday in a protracted dispute focussed on rosters.

The number of doctors on strike was not clear.

The DHBs' national contingency planner, Anne Aitcheson, said larger hospitals remained 90-96 percent full, with reasonably busy emergency departments, but they were coping well.

"Still manageable, still what our rosters are there to cover, indicative of the number of patients that need in-hospital care. I would imagine that for those hospitals there will be little variation over the following 48 hours," she said.

Aitcheson said the final day of a strike - tomorrow - was nearly always business as usual in her experience, in terms of people visiting emergency departments.

She said it was important people saw their GP if they were unwell, leaving emergency departments for those acutely unwell.

"The strike is for three days and whilst we have the staff available, rostered on in the DHBs, we want to be focussing our attention on those who need hospital care."

Junior or resident doctors will return to work at 8am on Friday.

Impact to be felt for 'months'

The effects of this week's strike would reverberate long after it was over, according to one DHB chief executive.

Southern DHB interim chief executive Chris Fleming said contingency planning at the Dunedin and Invercargill hospitals had worked well, but there was bound to be a long-term impact.

"Just on 788 outpatient appointments and 63 elective treatments and procedures have had to be postponed as a result of the junior doctors' strike," he said.

"The strike might end on Friday, but its impact goes well beyond this week, affecting hundreds of people in our district who need medical treatments," Mr Fleming said.

"Many patient appointments have already been rescheduled and we'll do our best to continue to accommodate patients affected by the strike.

"But it will take months to make up for the missed clinical time and specialist appointments."

He said patients whose appointments or procedures had been postponed by the strike had been contacted directly by DHB staff.

Southern DHB chief medical officer Nigel Millar said it must be disappointing and frustrating for many.

"You can imagine people who got themselves ready to have some significant surgery or made arrangements to get to a clinic... had relatives take time off work, and all those sorts of things, and then to have those arrangements suddenly scrambled - particularly at this time of the year, when people plan their holidays and things - that must be a significant inconvenience to many people."

Dr Millar said people appeared to accept the situation, knowing they could not change it.

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