Nurses warn New Zealand is 'dangerously under-prepared for tsunami of cases'

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 21 Oct 2021, 7:37PM
A triage tent for Emergency A&E admissions has been set up outside Middlemore Hospital. (Photo / Michael Craig)
A triage tent for Emergency A&E admissions has been set up outside Middlemore Hospital. (Photo / Michael Craig)

Nurses warn New Zealand is 'dangerously under-prepared for tsunami of cases'

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 21 Oct 2021, 7:37PM

New Zealand Nurses Organisation has warned the country is "dangerously under-prepared" for what seems an "inevitable tsunami of community cases".

On Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson was asked what plans are in place for hospitals that get overwhelmed by Covid-19. He said plans are in place.

"What we have been planning for the whole of the outbreak is making sure that the health system can cope."

He said they have been planning for the health system to cope with rising cases, such as sharing workforce around the country. Today seven people are in ICU and those rates are keeping steady and not an issue right now, he said.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation union members rally outside Auckland City Hospital. Photo / Jason Oxenham.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation union members rally outside Auckland City Hospital. Photo / Jason Oxenham.

Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said ICU bed numbers are consistent with modelling, and they will not let hospitals get overwhelmed.

However, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) said New Zealand was "dangerously under-prepared" for a large number of Covid-19 cases that could break the health system.

While nurses are a highly skilled workforce and have risen to ever-increasing demands, NZNO kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku said they are burnt out and seriously understaffed.

"Basically, we're saying to the Government that, even though you're acknowledging things are frighteningly bad right now, 'You ain't seen nothing yet,' and we would have been better prepared had you not decided to go it alone around nursing.

"The Government has not acted swiftly enough and, because it has not consulted with nursing experts or the nurses' union, we have band-aid solutions being applied all over the place that only serve to devalue nurses, while the heart of the problem has remained unaddressed."

On Wednesday, Health Minister Andrew Little announced that 300 places a month will be reserved in MIQ for bringing health workers into the country from November.

"Our world-class workforce is vital in rebuilding the health system and dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic," Little said.

"Whether it's bringing doctors or nurses in from other places or New Zealanders bringing their skills home, we need to be able to get them into the country and into the workforce."

Nuku said the Government have not acted swiftly enough and the announced 300 monthly MIQ spots for health workers is " way too little, way too late".

"Meanwhile we have around 3500 nursing vacancies nationally across the health sector. Even if the nurses took all 300 MIQ places each month, we wouldn't be breaking even in a year's time because so many nurses continue to leave.

NZNO kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku says nurses are burnt out and seriously understaffed. Photo / Paul Taylor

NZNO kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku says nurses are burnt out and seriously understaffed. Photo / Paul Taylor

"So we need a fair say in how those 300 health workers are selected and deployed each month."

There were 102 community cases reported on Thursday and there were 46 people in hospital.

In terms of the Government's plan to train staff to work in intensive care units, Nuku said it is "woefully inadequate".

"Nurses are incredible, but it is not a fair or realistic long-term solution to expect them to function professionally in ICU environments on the basis of four hours' online training. This will put nurses and patients at risk."

The Ministry of Health would work with District Health Boards and Primary Health Organisations to allocate them to the people needed most urgently.

Nuku said the Government must consult with nursing unions to address and solve issues.

"NZNO needs to be at the table when nursing issues are being decided by Government and the situation we currently find ourselves in is just likely to get worse because that has not happened."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is revealing the new restrictions framework - a traffic light system - for a highly vaccinated New Zealand tomorrow, including different rules for the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.

It will include vaccination targets that need to be met until the framework comes into force, and the pathway for how Auckland comes out of lockdown, when Aucklanders will be allowed to leave the city, and what the future looks like for the rest of the country.