17 Feb 2022

Hospitals consistently understaffed, nurses overworked - report

4:02 pm on 17 February 2022

A major independent report has found nurses are overworked and exhausted because of consistent understaffing and that patients are not always getting full care.

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(File image) Photo: 123RF

The Safe Staffing review was ordered by Health Minister Andrew Little after pressure from nursing unions.

It found hospitals were regularly short of nurses and that has been made worse because of border closures.

The extra pressures from Covid-19 had taken a significant and lasting toll on the wellbeing of nurses and their whānau, the report said.

"If the number of nurses in the workforce are not increased, it is impossible to achieve safe staffing and positive

work environments with the current demand for care," the report said.

"Nurses will remain overworked and exhausted."

The report reviewed the safe staffing programme, Care Capacity Demand Management Programme, put in place 16 years ago to try to measure the number of nurses working versus the number needed.

But the report found that not all district health boards had been following it properly.

Eighty-three percent of nurses said patients did not get full care when understaffed.

Half said they suffered poor mental health when their shifts were understaffed and 41 percent said they were asked to take on extra shifts every week.

The union, NZ Nurses Organisation, said the report was vindication for everything they had been saying for years.

But they said the reality on the ground was actually much worse.

Health Ministry Andrew Little blamed the district health boards for not implementing the safe staffing programme and the National government for failing to take it seriously when it came into office in 2009.

"Since we became the government in 2017, we've employed an extra 3621 nurses in DHBs, increased nurses' wages, made it easier for foreign-trained nurses to settle in New Zealand, and we've got recruitment programmes under way," he said.

However, just last week New Zealand trained migrant nurses who wanted to stay in New Zealand complained they were not able to get residency visas, despite a government plan to give residency visas to nurses from overseas this year.

Little said he agreed there had been a lack of workforce planning for nursing and that the health reforms which ditch DHBs would help to fix that.

"It is critically important that we fix the nursing shortage for the sake of our overworked nurses and to ensure the safety of patients, and our health reforms will make nationwide workforce planning much easier as well as ensuring greater accountability."

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