10 Oct 2019

Palmerston North Hospital nurses burnt out and end up quitting, union says

6:37 pm on 10 October 2019

Poor facilities and under-resourcing at Palmerston North Hospital left a nurse in tears daily, ultimately leading her to resign.

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Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Her claims have been backed by the Nurses Organisation, which said the problems at MidCentral District Health Board were pushing people to breaking point.

This comes after 80 senior doctors wrote to the DHB complaining about what they described as the inadequate state of the hospital and the harm it was causing patients.

Nurses are backing the letter from the doctors which said the insufficient, outdated, and poor operating theatres, emergency department, and intensive care unit amounted to a crisis.

They said they had lost faith in the DHB and its chief executive to fix the issues.

A former Palmerston Hospital nurse - who RNZ agreed not to name - said the situation was dire.

"You might only have five or six patients but they could be really high-demand patients.

"You get given a list at the start of your shift and you realise ... you don't have the hours in your shift to provide the level of care required."

The nurse resigned earlier this year and said it was her only option - she dreaded going to work because of the stress.

"I would leave 90 percent of my shifts crying because you can't give the patient the care that you've been trained to give and that you want to give, and it got to the point where I just actually couldn't go anymore."

The nurse said even if she had wanted to complain, no one would help.

The Nurses Organisation's Palmerston North spokesperson, Wendy Blair, said nurses were burnt out, fearful of reporting problems, and ended up quitting.

Even if problems were reported, there was a lack of communication between the MidCentral chief executive and the board, Ms Blair said.

She raised concerns about the emergency department in August and was ignored until she presented a case to the board personally.

"The board had no idea of the extent of the issue at the hospital, and I believe that is probably the case with the rest of the issues that are being raised by the senior doctors."

Ms Blair said the emergency department was already treating people in corridors and moving patients to the orthopaedic ward after-hours to find more beds.

"Nurses are barely coping with their workloads and environments. It's difficult for nurses to work in an environment that's not suitable."

MidCentral's population had a slighter higher proportion of older people than the national average but Grey Power said their members awaiting surgery would not speak out for fear of being pushed further down the list.

The MidCentral DHB was working as fast as it could to find solutions, chief executive Kathryn Cook said.

"It's clear that they feel the things they come to work everyday to do, which is to deliver good quality patient care, is in some way being compromised.

"They have to work a lot harder to make sure they can deliver that care because of the facilities."

Ms Cook said interim solutions were underway but a new hospital block is 10 years away.