“It was amazing — support was huge,” NZNO delegate Christine Warrander told Kaitiaki Nursing New Zealand straight after the strike.
‘Most of us were in tears . . . and amazed with all the support.’
She estimated about 200 people lined the walls of the hospital, clapping, as ward 5 staff walked out to the picket lines, where another 100 people joined them.
“It was very emotional seeing all the people lining the halls,” said Warrander who had been anxiously awaiting yesterday’s Employment Court decision after attending Monday’s hearing. “Most of us were in tears . . . and amazed with all the support.”
It was a hard-won action for the ward 5 nurses, who have been raising safety concerns for more than nine months and saw off a last-minute legal challenge by Te Whatu Ora this week.
The ward was regularly understaffed with two nurses instead of the required five on day shifts, Warrander said. This had led to medication errors, delays in treatment such as blood transfusions and several “close calls“, she said. “Nurses are literally running from one patient to another.”
“We know we shouldn’t be working under those conditions. But we can’t be calling in saying, ‘I’m mentally, physically exhausted, we can’t come to work’ – because we know it’ll be even worse for those left on the ward.”
In December, Gisborne Hospital nurse health and safety representative Carole Wallis lodged a provisional improvement notice (PIN) recommending five actions including reducing the beds on ward 5 — an acute medical and COVID ward — from 25 to 20.
A PIN is a legal notice obliging employers to respond within eight days or risk the intervention of workplace health and safety regulator WorkSafe.
WorkSafe is now reviewing the PIN — a review that is still underway.
‘It was very emotional seeing all the people lining the halls.’
Rejecting Te Whatu Ora’s claim its workplace was safe, Judge Kerry Smith said the evidence given by six nurses and HCAs in written affidavits painted a very different picture.
One nurse, Carmen West, “very starkly” described going home and telling her husband: “No-one died today, I don’t think I made a mistake.”
Te Whatu Ora argued its hospital was taking steps on four of the five recommendations — including recruiting specifically for ward 5 — but did not agree reducing bed numbers on the ward would resolve the issues.
Warrander said the court decision and strike had “opened the door” for other nurses to do the same.
NZNO chief executive Paul Goulter said to deny nurses who were not safe at work the right to strike over their concerns would have been an “intolerable injustice”.
“These are exhausted nurses who have given everything they have for their patients for an extended period of time, and they have finally reached breaking point.”