‘They have trampled on the mana of the future workforce’ — students in uproar over reports of hiring freeze

June 21, 2024

Confused, demoralised and “absolutely gutwrenched” — these are the feelings of nursing tauira (students) after hearing Te Whatu Ora may be freezing mid-year graduate recruitment a week out from hiring decisions.

‘There are no words that express the rage and the anger that I feel, we feel.’


NZNO student co-leader Shannyn Bristowe said many felt anger and confusion after hearing the news — which has been denied by Te Whatu Ora.


Shannyn Bristowe

“There are no words that express the rage and the anger that I feel, we feel. They’ve trampled on the mana of the future workforce,” said Bristowe, who had herself applied for a hospital nursing role at Te Whatu Ora. “It was my hopes and dreams –or it was meant to be,” she told Kaitiaki.

Bristowe said she had been inundated with calls from tauira around the country after the news broke on Wednesday.

“We had tauira who are absolutely gutted – they are a week away from finding out if they’ve got a placement and now this has been dropped on them.”


After pushing through so many financial barriers to complete their degrees, Bristowe said they just wanted clarity — a wish that may be granted on Monday when the new entry roles are due to be released by ACE (advanced choice of employment), which matches students with new entry places.

Richard Sullivan

Members have told NZNO that Te Whatu Ora chief clinical officer Richard Sullivan instructed clinical and nursing leaders on Wednesday to pause the mid-year intake of graduate nurses NETP (nurse entry-to-practice) and NESP (nurse entry to specialist practice) places in hospitals and specialist services due to fiscal constraints.

For roles that are crucial for safe staffing, managers were told it would be a case-by-case basis through Te Whatu Ora’s “request for recruit” process.

Clinical leaders were told graduates matched to NETP and NESP programme roles outside of hospital and specialist services would not be paused — such as aged care, primary health and private hospitals.

Kaitiaki has sighted communications confirming the instructions — which also state it was due to Te Whatu Ora overspending.

‘No pause’ — Te Whatu Ora

Te Whatu Ora chief nurse Nadine Gray has said there is “no pause in the recruitment of graduate nurses by Health New Zealand”.

In a statement, she said Te Whatu Ora was continuing to match graduate nurses to roles and the current intake was proceeding.

Nadine Gray

But the number of graduate nurses employed by Te Whatu Ora would depend on the number of vacancies it had, she said.

‘If NETP/NESP is not continued, I strongly believe we will see a huge spike in new graduates leaving for better opportunities overseas, or leaving nursing all together.’

“We note that in some nursing specialties, there are currently more graduate expressions of interest than we are likely to have vacancies.”

‘Beggared belief’

An Otago Daily Times (ODT) editorial on June 26 said it “beggared belief” there were no guaranteed hospital jobs for 535 new nurses about to graduate amid a nursing crisis.

While Gray denied a freeze, her wording “hinted” there may not be vacancies — later confirmed by Te Whatu Ora stating it had more interest than vacancies, the ODT said.

“In other words, even in the middle of a nursing crisis, there isn’t enough money budgeted to turn things around.”

Rebecca Dunn

Recent nursing graduate Rebecca Dunn called on Te Whatu Ora to explain whether supported-entry programmes were continuing.

“The support offered through the NETP/NESP programmes are vital in ensuring new graduate nurses are supported in their first year of practice,” she said.  Without them, “many would have left New Zealand for better support and job opportunities in other countries, namely Australia”.

Dunn said the programmes offered one-on-one orientation, preceptorship and ongoing debriefing as well as post-graduate study pathways.

“If NETP/NESP is not continued, I strongly believe we will see a huge spike in new graduates leaving for better opportunities overseas, or leaving nursing all together.”

Support ‘homegrown’ nurses

Dunn called on Te Whatu Ora to prioritise a home-grown competent workforce.

“To cancel the new graduate programme would send the message that dollars are more important than our nursing workforce.”

Under the ACE process, employers are required to make their selections by today — Friday June 21 — followed by electronic matching applicants to roles next week.

New graduates apply to the programmes through ACE which liaises with employers. Employers then rank their preferred list of candidates, before ACE matches graduates with supported workforce entry placements around the country.

The offers are conditional on the midyear graduates passing their state final exam — which takes place July 16, after which positions are due to be confirmed.

It was not yet clear how many roles could be affected.

‘He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata [the people] – when are we going to start putting the patients first?’

Patients ‘hurt’

Bristowe said any hiring constraints would hurt patients, as well as nurses.

“He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata [the people] – when are we going to start putting the patients first? Yes, this affects us students . . . but the people it affects the most are those we were getting jobs for — the patients.”

Shane Reti

The apparent move follows earlier efforts by Te Whatu Ora to save $105 million by July 1, by encouraging staff to take leave on public holidays such as Matariki and limiting sick leave cover.

Minister of Health Shane Reti has said he had been assured there was no pause on graduate nurse recruitment. He told the NZ Herald “misinformation” was causing anxiety among hardworking nursing students.

“I want them to know that we value their work and Health NZ will continue to support graduate nurses into the right jobs.”

‘Other opportunities’

Replying to Kaitiaki, Te Whatu Ora said in a further statement the recruitment of graduate nurses including NETP/NESP is going ahead as planned — but such positions may be outside Te Whatu Ora.

“The process to match graduates to roles is continuing. It remains our goal that all graduates are matched to roles as quickly as possible either with Health NZ or in the wider health sector. ”

Nadine Gray said there were many nursing opportunities outside Te Whatu Ora, in areas such as aged care or primary health.

More nurses were being employed than ever before by Te Whatu Ora in hospitals, with 29,404 full-time equivalent (FTE) roles — an increase of 2900 over the past year, she said.

  • Changes were made to this article on June 27, to include the Otago Daily Times editorial comments..