‘I won’t be silenced’ — Gisborne Hospital nurse whistleblower fears she is a target after disciplinary attempt

October 9, 2023

Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa–NZNO is taking legal action to support Gisborne Hospital ward 5 nurse Christine Warrander after hospital managers threatened her with disciplinary action over a social media post.

“I feel they’re coming after me – they’re trying to silence me,” she told Kaitiaki Nursing New Zealand. “But I’m going to continue speaking up until the patients and staff are safe.”

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Warrander, an NZNO delegate, told Kaitiaki she feared she had a target on her back, since speaking out about unsafe staffing on her ward earlier this year.

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“I did think I was going to be hung out to dry. I kind of figured when I stuck my neck out for the ward, that they’d come after me for something.”

‘I don’t want other people to be scared that they’re going to be silenced — and I don’t want other people being scared of speaking up for patient safety.’

After lodging a health and safety PIN (provisional improvement notice) in December 2022, Warrander, and about 20 other ward 5 nurses and staff went on a one-hour strike in May — fighting all the way to court to do so, after Te Whatu Ora Tairāwhiti unsuccessfully tried to block them with an injunction.

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In August, Warrander posted a brief update on the ward 5 situation in the NZNO–Te Whatu Ora Facebook page, in response to a query.

A few days later, she received a letter from Te Whatu Ora Tairāwhiti demanding an explanation and referring to possible formal disciplinary action over the post.

Christine outside the Wellington District Court in May, when Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa–NZNO won the right for its Gisborne Hospital ward 5 members to go on strike for safer staffing.

“I felt sick to my stomach. I panicked – I went through all the emotions. I was kind of angry.” But with the support of NZNO, Warrander decided to fight back.

NZNO lawyers wrote to Te Whatu Ora Tairāwhiti complaining about the “threatening and intimidating” letter.

The lawyers’ letter said such threats had a “chilling effect by creating fear in the recipient and others, especially where dismissal is threatened”.

‘It’s definitely messed with me, mentally and emotionally. I have days when I’m like: ‘Is it really worth it?’

Te Whatu Ora Tairāwhiti did withdraw the letter, but issued a second one which — while less threatening — was still “totally unacceptable”, NZNO chief executive Paul Goulter said.

NZNO had now lodged the matter with the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), over whether Te Whatu Ora’s actions were contrary to the NZNO-Te Whatu Ora employment agreement and unjustified, he said.

Warrander said it was disappointing that Te Whatu Ora was putting its time and energy into this, rather than trying to fix the staffing problem on the 25-bed acute medical and COVID ward.

“We’re still coming onto shift where there’s only two of us on – a couple of weeks ago there was an EN [enrolled nurse] with a new grad.”

The situation had been extremely tough on her mental health, she said.

“It’s definitely messed with me, mentally and emotionally. I have days when I’m like: ‘Is it really worth it?’ But then you go to work and see your colleagues stressed out and in tears because they have an unmanageable work load and your patients are not getting the care that they deserve.”

‘We’re still coming onto shift where there’s only two of us on — a couple of weeks ago there was an EN [enrolled nurse] with a new grad.’

Warrander said she had experienced “huge” support from colleagues and the general public, which had helped her carry on.

“I don’t want other people to be scared that they’re going to be silenced – and I don’t want other people being scared of speaking up for patient safety. So it’s like, I have to continue fighting for them.”