1 Jun 2021

Struggle to hire nurse raises concerns about wider issue of exhaustion

10:15 am on 1 June 2021

A west Auckland GP clinic fears staff burnout after it has struggled to recruit a practice nurse for almost a year.

Covid-19 vaccination generic.

Nurses have been drawn to vaccination clinics, where they were being offered higher wages than primary care can offer, a doctor at a GP clinic says. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Dr Joanna Lapish said Royal Heights Medical Centre had been trying to recruit a registered nurse since July 2020, but efforts have so far failed.

Nurses had instead been drawn to vaccination clinics, where they were being offered higher wages than primary care could offer, Lapish said.

One job advert on Seek was offering registered nurses a pay rate of up to $65/hour, which was considerably more than the $37/hour offered at Royal Heights.

Exhaustion had also become a problem in primary care, which made the idea of repetitive vaccination work more attractive, Lapish said.

"One of them actually said they saw it as a brain-dead kind of job, because you're vaccinating someone over and over again, which is a lot easier, they perceived, than working in a general practice, where you just don't know what's going to come through the door."

A 2020 survey by the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners revealed more than 30 percent of respondents were at high risk of burn out.

Lapish believed that figure would be even higher now, and said the pressure on surgeries was continuing to rise.

Covid-19 was still making things hard, with logistical challenges facing staff if a patient was symptomatic.

College of Nurses Aotearoa professor Jenny Carryer said many nurses were exhausted and spread thin.

"They are staffing the managed isolation centres, they are already stretched to the limits in the aged care centres, in the hospitals and in primary care," Carryer said.

"The vaccination programme is enormous for Covid, for the flu, for measles."

To help improve the situation there should to be more investment in nursing education, leadership development and salaries, Carryer said.

Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners medical director Dr Bryan Betty said there was a shortage of practice nurses in New Zealand, which was a worry.

"General practice is working at capacity and is very stretched at the moment," Betty said.

"Obviously the immunisation programme coming over the top exacerbates the workload.

"Yeah, it could be a concern for many practices in terms of how to handle the workload, but it's something we'll need to cope with over the next few months."

The Ministry of Health (MOH) is scaling up its workforce of vaccinators.

In a statement, it said more than 6100 people had been trained to administer the vaccine as part of their day job or in additon to current other employment.

Its website said the ministry was also working to train up additional vaccinators outside of the regular workforce.

They would be sourced from non-practicing nurses, doctors, and pharmacists.

Medical, nursing and pharmacy students in their final year would also be eligible, along with some other health providers like dentists.

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