Nurses and kaiāwhina across Aotearoa brave chill winds to call for safer staffing

May 9, 2024

Nurses and kaiāwhina braving brutal near-zero temperatures in some places to speak up for safer staffing received warm support from the public as they rallied across the country today.

“Good on you!” and “You do a beautiful job!” passers-by call out to nurses outside Wellington Hospital, amid near-constant tooting from motorists — including a cheeky police car. “You deserve it!” adds a passing cyclist.

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Ahead of the 2024 Budget at the end of this month, nurses and kaiāwhina rallied across the country today, in a call for more funding for health and enforceable safe nurse-to-patient ratios.

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Nurses rallied against cold winds in Wellington.

As a freezing blast swept many parts of the lower North and South Island, nurses and the wider kaiāwhina workforce stepped out at more than 20 locations to protest over unsafe staffing putting them and patients at risk.

‘We’re haemorrhaging staff to Australia. The money is attractive but it’s also about conditions.’

Wellington Hospital delegate Annie McCabe said nurses were frustrated with the lack of attention to ongoing serious understaffing.

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“We’re haemorrhaging staff to Australia. The money is attractive but it’s also about conditions.”

NZNO delegate Annie McCabe outside Wellington Hospital today.

‘We are having to compromise on all these things — we are not paid enough, we are not valued and we are not able to deliver the level of care we want.’

McCabe said nurses wanted three things: To be paid what they’re worth; to be valued and recognised at work; and to deliver the care they’ve been trained for.

“We are having to compromise on all these things — we are not paid enough, we are not valued and we are not able to deliver the level of care we want.”

Members of Te Poari were at Wellington’s rally.
Anna Clarke

Northland nurse Anna Clarke said when staff were sick or away, there was often nobody to cover.

“That’s when all those unsafe practices come up — you end up putting patients’ lives at risk.”

NZNO kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku told Wellington’s rally nurses must stand strong in their demand for safer staffing.

“If this continues, we will see compromised health care . . . and we’ll see more of our nurses leave for Australia, where they have implemented nurse/patient ratios that recognise that nurses are a valued workforce and that there must be a minimum on every ward.”

Health-care assistants in Wellington.

The day of action took place as NZNO released figures supplied by Te Whatu Ora revealing a quarter of shifts were understaffed in 2023 — and some wards nearly all the time that year.

NZNO chief executive Paul Goulter said the figures showed some neonatal wards were understaffed for 80 per cent of last year —  and more than half the country’s children’s wards were understaffed 20 per cent of the time.

Other regularly understaffed wards included cancer , surgical, women’s health and — most acutely — mental health.

Paul Goulter in Christchurch.

The Budget was the Government’s “last chance” to show they cared about health, by funding safe staffing levels, Goulter said.

‘It makes such a difference to have only four patients — to do with safety, to do with your patient interaction and your personal connections with your patients.’

In Porirua, aged care delegate Anita Cook said public support was “huge” on a bitterly cold morning, with constant approaches and beeps.

NZNO aged care delegate Anita Cook (far right) with a visiting friend now working in Queensland, Australia, (centre) and NZNO lawyer Machrus Siregar in Porirua today.
Ratios ‘such a difference’

Her visiting friend — who asked not to be named — joined the rally to show support after leaving New Zealand last year for Queensland where nurse-to-patient ratios are mandated.

Having worked in medical wards here, where she cared for up to six patients, and in Queensland, where she never had more than four patients, the experienced nurse said mandated ratios made a huge difference.

Taranaki members rally in New Plymouth.

“It makes such a difference to have only four patients — to do with safety, to do with your patient interaction and your personal connections with your patients.”

She loved New Zealand, but did not believe its working conditions were safe for nurses or patients.

Wairarapa members rally in Masterton.

A bitter day with cold winds and rain did not deter the faithful at Wairarapa, organisers said.

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Members of the primary teachers’ union NZEI  turned up to support the nurses, who also gained many supportive toots from the public — plus a free burger from the Rapid Relief food charity after the weather closed in.

Christchurch supporters, left to right: Eden Cruz, Merlie Cruz and Precy Padilla.
Nurses and kaiāwhina rally in Auckland.