2 Mar 2023

Whangārei Hospital managers backed nurses' call for army to help during staffing crisis

12:41 pm on 2 March 2023
Whangarei Hospital

In September 2022, Whangārei Hospital emergency department nurses were so worried about staffing levels they asked managers to call in army medics. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Whangārei Hospital managers asked for the army to help during a staffing crisis but were turned down, a document shows.

It was revealed this week that the hospital's emergency department nurses were so worried about unsafe staffing levels in September, they asked managers to call in army medics.

In an initial response to RNZ about whether it had asked for help, the hospital said any request to bring in the army would not be made locally, and would have to meet a high national emergency threshold.

But in a leaked document from September, managers tell nurses they had actually asked about using the army medics.

"Our requests for assistance to date have been declined are [sic] their staff are deployed overseas however we will submit a further request in relation to this PIN," it says.

A PIN is a provisional improvement notice, the formal way that staff can make a health and safety complaint including requests for action.

After a new query by RNZ yesterday, the hospital now says it made the request for army assistance via the Ministry of Health.

However, the Defence Force said it had no record of any formal request from the hospital or the ministry.

"If an informal request for NZDF support were to be made outside this process - such as a civilian health professional ringing someone they know within the NZDF, which has thousands of employees - we cannot guarantee it would be passed on to the appropriate team for consideration or recorded," a spokesperson said.

Emergency department nurses submitted the PIN complaint when they had 240 gaps in the roster for a four-week period, and winter illnesses were putting huge pressure on the system.

Te Whatu Ora said this week the complaint was not valid because it was not submitted by a person with the correct health and safety qualifications, or discussed with managers first, as required for the PIN process.

But the leaked document shows hospital managers initially took the complaint seriously, giving an item by item response to every request.

"We found it very helpful to hear the nature and depth of your concerns in person," it says.

In a follow-up response to RNZ, the hospital's interim director of provider services, Tracey Schiebli, said the managers followed the complaint procedure because they were acting in good faith and later realised it was not valid.

They continue to work to fix the problems with staffing regardless, she said.

The Nurses Organisation said none of the problems raised in September had been resolved.

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