15 Aug 2021

Medical specialists want DHB staffing woes addressed

9:39 am on 15 August 2021

Senior medical staff are warning staffing levels in hospitals are too low, and their resources are dangerously stretched.

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

Photo: 123rf

Stopwork meetings were held by the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists over the past 12 days around the country amid collective agreement negotiations with district health boards.

Association executive director Sarah Dalton said senior doctors and dentists were fed up with having to prop up understaffed systems and were worried staff safety was being put in jeopardy.

"The reality is that our hospitals and health services are so short-staffed that it is increasingly becoming a health and safety issue, reaching a point where providing patient care is often unsafe."

Acute work was overwhelming hospital services, and some services were using staffing levels and rosters that had been set at least a decade ago and not been adjusted to reflect the "massive increases" in today's workload, she said.

And the staffing issues extended to other roles, such as nurses, occupational therapists and administration, leaving all staff - including the specialists - stretched while they tried to help cover the gaps.

"What we are being told is that our senior doctors and their healthcare colleagues are at the end of their tether and their work has become unsustainable.

"They say some services have disappeared or are no longer available due to a lack of specialist staff, they can't take leave because there is no backup, and they're burning out and leaving the public health system."

Dalton said members were to be surveyed on Monday about their priorities for settlement before they consider going back to the bargaining table.

The association has called for district health boards to make changes to the staffing problems before heading back to the bargaining table.

Last week Health Minister Andrew Little unveiled plans to scrap national health targets, and replace them with indicators that 12 specific measures of performance can be measured against.

The indicators would be based on the government's six priorities for health, and include measures for performance in mental health, child wellbeing, disease and injury prevention, and equity.

But Dalton said the measures would not accurately reflect the state of the health system and its sustainability without an indicator measuring safe staffing levels.

"The health and sustainability of our health workforce is critical," Sarah Dalton said. If it doesn't [address the problem], patients will continue to miss out and the health workforce will burnout."

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