20 Apr 2024

Big leave balances due to short-staffing, doctors say

11:50 am on 20 April 2024
Medical equipment

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Health New Zealand's orders to clamp down on overtime and big leave balances to save money will inevitably hurt patients, junior doctors say.

The agency has written to health unions outlining 14 directives it has given hospitals, including banning double shifts, closing some vacant roles and forcing staff to use leave.

Te Whatu Ora said it was clamping down because it could not go into the new financial year operating in deficit as it currently was.

"We must address personnel related costs and have more room to do this, given the significant progress made on workforce shortages, such as filling nurse vacancies," the letter to the senior doctors' union said.

But Resident Doctors' Association head Dr Deborah Powell said the reason staff were clocking up overtime and leave was because of short-staffing.

"In some areas if you take annual leave, work simply won't get done."

She said the union had been trying to end double shifts for years because they were a health and safety risk, but this move by Te Whatu Ora made it clear that money was a bigger concern.

Hospitals needing to appoint new clinical staff were now also required to get them signed off by an official in Wellington.

Powell said she was aware of one short-staffed radiology department hit with extra bureaucracy.

"In order to replace a radiographer, instead of getting three sign offs, we now need to go to the head of hospital and specialist services, which is five sign offs.

"So it is affecting clinical. It has been signed off so that position will be filled, but there's additional bureaucracy involved in the pipeline now."

It was unsettling for frontline staff to be unsure whether roles would be filled or not, she said.

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