Canterbury regional hospitals closing as COVID-19 hits nurses

March 7, 2022

Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) is temporarily closing four of its smaller regional hospitals to prepare for COVID-related staff absences, NZNO organiser Lynley Mulrine confirmed.

Lynley Mulrine

Oxford, Waikari, Ellesmere and Darfield hospitals will be shutting their doors from next week, Mulrine said. “They’re doing it in anticipation of staff being off – and for once being pre-emptive is quite helpful.”

Some of the 87 staff affected may be redeployed to the community response, however it would be only with their agreement, another organiser Helen Kissell said.

CDHB had assured NZNO the closure would only be temporary, Kissell added.

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Darfield Hospital has eight beds providing for elderly, respite and end of life care. Ellesmere has 10 beds and provides older person care. Oxford Hospital has 15 beds and provides convalescence, palliative and long-stay care. Waikari Hospital provides a range of services.

Kissell said, while temporary, the closures would have a significant impact on staff, almost all nurses, as well as residents. All redeployment options would be by agreement, she said.

Darfield Hospital

The closures were planned for March 15, when Omicron was projected to be near its peak. Kissell said the closure was for 12 weeks as CDHB anticipated the effect of Omicron lasting about eight weeks after the peak. “It is a difficult situation, but it is a difficult situation for our members too.”

Mulrine said staff absenteeism was growing and on March 3, there were 302 CDHB staff on COVID-related sick leave, including 116 nurses. “I think we’re starting to see it grow exponentially now,”

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COVID-related absenteeism is projected to hit 25-45 per cent of the health workforce at the peak of the Omicron outbreak, NZNO has said.

Ron Angel
Ron Angel

Canterbury organiser Ron Angel said staff were “managing okay, right now [but] it’s a day by day basis”. He said CDHB was expected to move to the next stage of its response this week, bringing in staff from “non-essential” services, diverting end-of-life patients to other providers and postponing most non-urgent procedures.

No department was “really badly hit” so far, Angel said, however as case numbers grew, it was “highly likely” to feel the squeeze. There were 1390 new cases in Canterbury reported today, including 19 in hospital.

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CDHB had projected a peak of 3500 COVID cases per day and actual numbers seemed to be tracking closely against projections, Angel said.