29 Oct 2022

Minister of Health told to front up on staff safety concerns at Middlemore

5:58 am on 29 October 2022
Counties Manukau Health says it has enacted special escalation plans, including cancelling elective surgery, to deal with a surge in patients visiting Middlemore Hospital's emergency department.

Staffing issues and patient wait times are causing widespread problems in healthcare. File pic Photo: 123RF

Minister of Health Andrew Little needs to front up and answer questions about staff safety in the country's emergency departments, the National Party health spokesperson Shane Reti says.

National Party health spokesman Dr Shane Reti says Counties Manukau Health’s projected time frame for replacing the earthquake-prone facility is too long.

National Party health spokesperson Shane Reti Photo: Supplied /Local Democracy Reporting / Stuff - Robert Kitchin

On Thursday, Reti called on WorkSafe to investigate Middlemore Hospital's emergency department after serious concerns were raised about the safety of frontline healthcare workers in a scathing report last week.

He said workforce shortages in emergency departments like Middlemore were resulting in untenable workloads for staff, leading to increased burnout and resignations of doctors and nurses.

But Andrew Little's office refused to answer questions from Local Democracy Reporting about staff safety at the hospital on Thursday.

His office said it was an issue best addressed by the Minister of Workplace Relations and Safety Michael Wood.

But Reti said Little could not keep trying to duck the tough questions about the country's health crisis.

And he said the Minister of Health needs to accept responsibility for the serious safety issues outlined in last week's report.

"It's just not acceptable," he said.

Reti said it was a serious matter and Little needed to say what the government plans to do about it.

"His office can't just continue to not reply to legitimate questions."

Michael Wood

Minister of Workplace Relations and Safety Michael Wood Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

In a statement, Wood said calls for WorkSafe to investigate Middlemore Hospital's emergency department are an operational matter for the Crown agency. But any concerns about workplace safety for staff needed to be looked at.

"It's important that all New Zealanders feel safe at work and any reports regarding staff safety are a concern to me," Wood said.

"Decisions to investigate are rightly an operational matter for WorkSafe New Zealand. However I understand WorkSafe is engaging with Te Whatu Ora, unions and other entities in an ongoing dialogue."

He said if any issues were identified, WorkSafe was the appropriate agency to investigate and he was confident it would take such issues seriously.

An independent inquiry into Middlemore's emergency department released last week highlighted the fact it was unsafe for staff and patients.

The report was produced after the death of a patient at the hospital in June - after a woman left Middlemore's emergency department (ED) due to the long wait times.

It was written by Dr André Cromhout, an emergency physician from Te Whatu Ora (Capital, Coast & Hutt Valley), who said Middlemore ED was overcrowded and operating "well over acceptable capacity".

"This is an unsafe environment for both patients and staff and is not sustainable," he said.

A frontline healthcare worker at Middlemore Hospital's emergency department said whichever agency takes up the challenge, something needs to be done to address workplace safety in the country's EDs.

But she said the government had done little to address the concerns of doctors and nurses on the frontline after the release of last week's damning report.

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