Staffing shortages laid bare by lockdown pressure

September 1, 2021

The COVID-19 lockdown has exposed chronic short-staffing as nurses were asked to work despite living with people potentially exposed to the virus.

After New Zealand went into alert level 4, the Ministry of Health (MoH) issued an exemption for essential health workers from the need to fully self-isolate as long as certain conditions were met.

NZNO says the fact nurses living with those identified as close contacts were still asked to work for Auckland district health boards (DHBs) simply showed the desperate state of the system.

Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku said there was a clear public health order that housemates of close contacts were required to self-isolate because they were a health risk.

“The health direction to self-isolate is there for good reason and there should be no exceptions.”

Before the latest COVID-19 outbreak, Health Minister Andrew Little promised a review into why full care capacity demand management rollout in DHBs missed a deadline set in the 2018 collective agreement.

He also promised there would be investment in completing the rollout and funding for a recruitment campaign to fill nursing vacancies.

Nuku said nurses, midwives, health care assistants and kaimahi hauora working in DHBs had been speaking out about unsafe staffing for decades.

‘Successive governments have not listened’

“Successive governments have not listened, and nurses have just been told over and over to do more with less.

“The result of this is what you see now, where the Government has changed the Ministry of Health’s public health advice because the DHBs don’t have enough staff.”

She said nurses staying away from work because they live with close contacts was also a protection for them, and that nurses were as entitled to the same protection as anybody else.

An MoH statement to media said the exemption was made with an eye to balancing the risk of non-COVID-19 patients coming to harm because essential health workers were isolating unnecessarily.

The lockdown came as NZNO DHB members were locked in a tense industrial standoff with DHBs and the Government.