3 Jan 2020

Nurse says emergency room dangerously understaffed

2:25 pm on 3 January 2020

A registered nurse is breaking her silence about a horror experience working on the frontlines of a public hospital.

Health professionals have been warning the health system is desperately stretched.

Photo: 123rf

A year ago she walked away from her job of 10 years after suffering severe burnout due to stress and what she says is lack of support from management.

Her worst experiences include a baby almost dying in the waiting room of an emergency department last year, due to what she says was DHB and management inaction

RNZ has agreed not to name the nurse as she fears speaking out could damage her career.

"A young Māori family were trying to get access to the emergency department for the assessment ... they'd been turned away, and when I encountered them they were about to leave because they were told by multiple staff members that their baby turning blue when it coughed was quite normal.

"I ended up resuscitating that baby in the waiting room. There was a good outcome thankfully ... four times being turned away [is] too many - it's not okay, it's not safe."

A build-up of events like these left her with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

She is concerned racism was a major factor in the family's treatment, and other inequalities she said were normalised. The health system had been in crisis since 2006 and now it was past breaking point, she said.

In her 10 years working for the DHB, staffing levels never increased despite a growing workload and population, and more clinical health educators are needed in public hospitals, she said.

"I have never had significant trauma from a clinical situation, and I've dealt with homicides and multi-car crashes, suicides, child deaths, sudden deaths. Some very tragic situations - none of that has kept me awake - what has kept me awake at night is trying to figure out how to do my job in the dangerous environment we were forced to work in."

New Zealand Resident Doctors' Association secretary Deborah Powell said poor staffing levels were a problem across the country.

"It's true, we know people are being missed out. We've had people going blind on waiting lists in Dunedin, we've had people who are being fairly disabled because they're not being seen soon enough ... another one was 1000 people on Northland District Health Board's waiting list," Powell said.

Health Minister David Clark said the previous government was to blame.

"It's absolutely clear that there has been huge stress on the system for a very long period of time and under the previous government's watch. We were asking doctors and nurses to work in a way that put them under serious pressure," Clark said.

But Powell said she did not think the current government was blameless.

"He [Minister David Clark] keeps on saying we've put more money in, that is correct, but there is a surge in demand that is not being met due to baby boomers coming through."

Powell said this election year doctors and nurses would continue to rally for more support, but in the meantime, more people every day would slip through the cracks of a public hospital crisis.

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