20 Oct 2010

Striking health workers hit back at claims

10:37 pm on 20 October 2010

Radiographers and laboratory workers have hit back at DHB claims that their strike action is unreasonable and harming patients.

Most district health boards and the Blood Service have been experiencing intermittent strikes by the workers for more than three months.

Representatives of all 20 district health boards held a media briefing in Wellington on Wednesday.

They say patients are being put at risk and harmed because of months of low-level and full industrial action and gave examples.

Top doctors at public hospitals also said they were taking the unprecedented step of calling on the Government to urgently review pay bargaining in health.

Lab workers say patients are being harmed, but believe DHBs are also guilty for suspending striking workers and not ensuring all their work is done while they are away. They say they want to settle regionally, but DHBs will not allow it.

Radiographers say they are as frustrated as DHBs at the lack of progress.

However, a union delegate for the radiographers, Bernadette Gourley, told Checkpoint the DHBs' decision on Tuesday to withdraw their latest offer casts doubt on the boards' concern for patients.

"If the DHBs are so concerned about the length of the waiting times and the impact of our ongoing partial strikes to the general public, it is very hard to understand why they have wiped out nine months of negotiations, withdrawn their offer and taken everything right back to the beginning, when we were very close."

The DHBs say the parties are not close to agreement. They say conditions sought by radiographers would cost up to $1.8 million, not the $200,000 the union estimates.

Patients being harmed, say DHBs

The DHBs on Wednesday gave examples at the media briefing of harm to patients they say is a result of the strike action.

They say two patients in Auckland whose scans were deferred because of strike action by radiographers have now presented with inoperable liver cancer.

The DHBs say it is not known whether their cancer would have been treatable if the scans had been done when it was first asked for.

Also in Auckland, a patient haemorrhaging in an operating theatre had the supply of blood for transfusion initially refused, then delayed, because of an attempt to apply union sanctions to cross-matching of their blood.

New-born twins were transferred to Auckland for renal biopsies, but because of the strike action had to be sent back to their originating hospital, only to have to return a week later for surgery.

Auckland DHB says it has 600 patients waiting for CT services, and 50 patients with renal stones awaiting surgery because radiographers refuse to operate an image intensifier on the days that stone procedures are done.

Hutt Valley DHB says 1500 women in its district have not been able to have a mammogram since the strike action started three months ago, while Northland DHB says 29 orthopaedic operations have been cancelled.

Doctors call on Government to act

Top hospital doctors say the rolling strikes are denying patients the right level of care and people are being put at risk.

The chief medical officers told a media briefing on Wednesday they are also worried about delays and deferrals of diagnoses and treatment.

The doctors have written to Health Minister Tony Ryall calling on the Government to address their concerns urgently and to review current processes that allow health professionals to strike.

Mr Ryall has ruled that out, saying the Government does not consider the compulsory arbitration process is a viable option for the delivery of best quality health services.