23 Nov 2022

Cards giving health minister's contacts were nurses' response to abuse - union delegate

5:39 am on 23 November 2022
Labour MP Andrew Little

Health Minister Andrew Little's contact details were given out by nurses facing the realities of working on a grossly understaffed Emergency Department. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Nurses at Wellington Hospital say they started handing out Health Minister Andrew Little's contact details after being abused because of short staffing and long waits in the emergency department.

A Nurses Organisation delegate Serena Gray said a nurse came up with the idea of handing out the small laminated contact cards after she was badly verbally abused by a patient.

"Demanding why there weren't more nurses, why there weren't more staff, why things weren't happening fast enough," she said.

The nurse wanted the patient to tell Little directly what they were going through.

Other nurses started to hand them out too, with a small stack sitting at the ED triage desk for the past few weeks.

"It came through from frustration and despair about what we were going through as nurses and it just sort of caught on," Gray said.

Not every patient had been offered a card, but many who were complaining or expressing concern were, she said.

The nurses hoped hearing from patients and their families about their experiences would have more of an impact on Little than the complaints from staff.

RNZ understands hospital management emailed ED nurses yesterday, wrongly alleging Little's privacy had been breached.

The contact details used were his publicly available office ones.

They have told them to stop and told RNZ yesterday they are investigating.

No Caption

The hospital's interim director John Tait says the internal complaints process should be used. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The Nurses Organisation said it would protect any nurse disciplined over the action.

Chief executive Paul Gouleter said the hospital should not carry out a witch hunt, but instead fix the problems.

Gray said it was difficult to know how that would be done.

In the past 18 months, there had not been a day where the Wellington Hospital ED corridors were free of patients, but the problems were nationwide.

The hospital's interim director John Tait said yesterday he would prefer people used the hospital's internal complaints process.

However, it showed the stress the "incredibly dedicated and hardworking staff" were under, he said.

Solutions included increasing the workforce and a new ED, but these would take time.

"We totally understand how [distressing] it is to wait in ED for hours and hours and hours."

People who had a major accident, a major trauma or were severely unwell would be seen quickly and get good care, he said.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs