21 Oct 2021

Health worker MIQ spots a start, but more needs to be done - expert

10:23 am on 21 October 2021

The government needs to vigorously recruit foreign nurses and pay New Zealand staff to return from overseas, says the Intensive Care Society.

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Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

The government announced yesterday it will guarantee 300 spots a month in managed isolation for people in the health and disability sectors.

Those groups of workers, who are urgently needed in this country, currently have to compete for scarce MIQ spaces with other travellers.

Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society spokesperson Andrew Stapleton told Morning Report while the announcement is welcome it's not enough to resolve workforce shortages.

"We don't have many nurses, we don't have many beds compared to everyone else, that's well established."

A surge workforce is being trained incase they are needed, he said.

He said New Zealand normally had world-class outcomes for intensive care but other jurisdictions that had moved to this style of care had found the outcome was half as good.

"You put nurses or anaesthetic technicians, or anaesthetists at the bedside and you have an ICU nurse who's immediately proximate to them but supervising one surge nurse per bed perhaps, and she might be supervising (the ICU nurse) two or three beds and therefore you increase your capacity to look after patients that way."

He said if there were 1000 patients a day, all vaccinated, with three ICU patients a day staying in the unit for two weeks each there would be about 42 patients in Auckland ICU at any time.

"With the surge workforce, with Auckland having about 75 ICU beds, we could cope with that, although it would be damn hard work."

If the 1000 patients weren't vaccinated, it would be 30-100 patients in ICU a day. "That's the difference between being vaccinated and not and we couldn't cope with that."

He said patients would need to be moved around the country in that scenario, until the ICU capacity was shared out and every last ventilator and staff member would need to be used.

He argues they need a centralised process that looks at the barriers to get ICU nurses into the country.

"That requires one agency to take control of this issue, to advertise, interview, to sort out visas, to get nurses through MIQ and into the country."

He said even though DHBs had permission to recruit ICU nurses, they were now competing with each other.

Australia was offering a cash premium for its own overseas nurses to relocate back there, he said.

"I also believe there are a lot of nurses overseas who would relish the prospect of coming to work in New Zealand, pandemic or not."

Meanwhile, Aged Care Association chief executive Simon Wallace said they were really pleased with the announcement.

"It will make a difference. It should have happened earlier but bring it on."

Wallace says there are 350 overseas nurses with job offers in New Zealand who have visas but who haven't been able to come in.

"If we can get those 350 nurses in and get them in very very quickly, it will make a huge difference to our sector where we are more than 900 nurses short."

He said, with 40,000 beds, his sector stopped hospitals from overflowing.

"[When] we don't have nurses, as is the case at the moment, our older residents take up beds in hospitals because we have to close down our own beds.

"Having nurses in aged care is just as important as ICU nurses and nurses across the whole system. We are part of the solution here."

DHBs have actively poached nurses from aged care, he said.

"And yes the DHBs are funded by the government more to pay their nurses than we are and the impending settlement between the government and public hospital nurses will see a difference as much as $20,000 between an aged care nurse and a nurse in a public hospital.

"That's at the heart of the problem and we need to get that fixed...and immigration is the fall back position."

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