11 Jun 2021

Christchurch Hospital beds empty due to lack of nurses - doctor

7:03 am on 11 June 2021

Beds at Christchurch Hospital are sitting empty because there are not enough nurses to manage them.

Christchurch Hospital Waipapa.

Christchurch Hospital is seeing operations cancelled and beds empty due to staffing shortages. Photo: Supplied

That is according to medical staff at the hospital, who said a stretched workforce was now at breaking point.

A doctor at the hospital, who asked not to be named, said last week there were 19 beds sitting empty across the hospital.

This was at the same time demand was exceeding supply, requiring the cancellation of 54 surgeries, as beds intended for operations were instead taken up by the likes of acute patients.

So why not use the spare 19 beds, instead of postponing surgeries, including six who had cancer? The reason, according to a nurse who asked not to be named, was a lack of nurses to staff those beds.

"There's only so much you can keep asking people to step up and do more with less and that's usually less of us to do more for the number of patients that we have through the door on any given day.

"You know, I've had someone recently just message me to say that they're off sick, because they've just had enough. They're so burnt out, they're looking elsewhere, they just can't do this."

She said poor pay and poor working conditions had made experienced nurses and new graduates look overseas, where demand had never been higher due to Covid-19.

"Because of the short staffing and the stress and the hard work and the threat of violence and other things, nurses aren't staying."

A colorectal cancer surgeon at Christchurch Hospital, Frank Frizelle, said not being able to do the surgeries people had been booked for, because there weren't the nurses available, was frustrating.

He said postponed surgeries had a "cascading effect", and that one cancelation could end up delaying treatment for another seven to eight patients down the line as surgeons played catch up.

"Patients finding they can't get this surgery has a huge toll on them emotionally and on their family and their loved ones, as well as impacting upon their treatment, at a time when they're very vulnerable because of their cancer."

As well as the 19 that sat empty last week, Professor Frizelle noted an entire ward of the recently-completed Waipapa wing had also yet to be occupied, due to a lack of resourcing.

He said the government needed to urgently increase nursing numbers so that Christchurch Hospital could make use of all of its unused beds.

"I think they need to stop and reflect and talk to patients. Probably family members and friends that have been sick, perhaps even colleagues, that had been in hospital and just understand what it's like when you've got cancer and you can't get treatment."

In a statement the DHB's chief executive, Peter Bramley, said across its hospitals it had 70 nursing vacancies.

He did not address whether his DHB was experiencing a shortage of nurses, saying only that the employment of graduates "across the health system" this year was "in line with previous years."

He said there would always need to be some empty beds to allow for extra demand and these beds would be resourced with the required nurses, "wherever possible".

Dr Bramley apologised for the stress and inconvenience faced by those who had surgery postponed.

All eyes were now on the negotiations between the nurses union and the DHB's to see if more money would be forthcoming to fix the shortage as hospitals headed into winter, the busiest time of the year.

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