‘They’re stabbing us in the back’ — Gisborne Hospital moves to block ward 5 nurses’ strike

May 21, 2023

Gisborne Hospital nurses say they’re not surprised by Te Whatu Ora’s move to try and block their strike with legal action.


“We weren’t actually that surprised — we were kind of expecting it,” NZNO delegate, ward 5 nurse Christine Warrander told Kaitiaki Nursing New Zealand. 


Te Whatu Ora has applied for an interim injunction, trying to block a planned one-hour strike on May 24 citing “significant potential consequences for patients, their families, other staff, and communities generally”. About 24 ward 5 nurses plan to walk off the job from 1.30-2.30pm.

Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa NZNO is opposing the order and an Employment Court hearing is set for Monday May 22.

‘There have been drug errors because nurses are literally running from one patient to another’


Te Whatu Ora made the move this week — as they were telling Kaitiaki they respected staff’s right to strike and were working with NZNO to make contingency plans.

“Patient and staff safety remain our top priorities, and while we respect our staff’s right to take industrial action, our focus is on ensuring we have contingency plans in place,” a Te Whatu Ora said in a statement on Wednesday.

Te Tai Tokerau nurses urged Gisborne colleagues to ‘kia kaha – stand firm! Stand strong!’

However, Te Whatu Ora later told Kaitiaki it did not believe a strike was justified, given its efforts to address staff concerns.

“Te Whatu Ora acknowledges the right of staff to engage in lawful strike action,” its statement said. “However given the work that is in progress and processes currently underway to address the health and safety concerns raised by employees in this instance, Te Whatu Ora does not consider that the threshold for justifying a strike on this basis is met. We believe that we have an obligation to ask the Court to determine this in the broader interests of staff and patient safety.”

Warrander said that was “frustrating” the hospital had told media it was “right behind” staff the same time they were preparing a legal order to try and stop it.

Gisborne Hospital nurses Christine Warrander and Carole Wallis.

“They’re stabbing us in the back. They knew when they gave you that statement that they had done this action — so for them to say they’re supporting us for the right to strike? They’re not.”

‘Te Whatu Ora does not consider that the threshold for justifying a strike on this basis is met.’

If the hospital was really concerned about patient safety, managers would have listened to staff, who had been “screaming at them for over a year ‘there is no patient safety, things are really dangerous’,” she said.

“We’re doing eight hour shifts where there is less staff than they’re proposing be on when we go out for an hour – and we’re told we just have to suck that up and deal with it and do the best that we can?

‘Close calls’

Warrander said there had been some “close calls” over the past few months due to the unsafe staffing levels and “huge” workloads.

“There have been drug errors because nurses are literally running from one patient to another – they’re rushed, they’re pressured, they’re tired and so the concentration is not 100 per cent as it should be,” she said.

“We’re not being able to spend that time. . . we’re not always able to recognise a deteriorating patient until it’s crisis point,” Warrander said. “Luckily nothing has happened to the patients, but there have been some close calls,” she said.

“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.”

Messages of support have flowed in including this from Whakatāne’s acute care unit: ‘Kia kaha ward 5 Gisborne, we support you’.

Crucial patient treatments such as blood transfusions had been delayed at times, as staff did not have time to sit with them as required to watch for a reaction. “We’re having to pick and choose what and when we do things.”


NZNO chief executive Paul Goulter described Te Whatu Ora’s move as “heavy-handed”.

Staff from the general ward on Te Tai o Poutini West Coast’s Te Nikau Hospital sent “love and support” to Gisborne’s nurses.

“Instead of acknowledging that there is a problem and seeking ways to work with us to solve it, the employer has responded by seeking an interim injunction to deny our members the right to strike for their own and their patients’ health and safety.”

Prior to the move, NZNO had been working constructively with Gisborne Hospital to agree on life-preserving services, within the required time frame set out in the Employment Relations Act’s code of good faith for the Public Health Sector. 

Goulter commended the Gisborne Hospital members for their bravery and said NZNO would be opposing the interim application in court tomorrow.

The pressures faced by Gisborne nurses were shared “across the sector”, he said.

NZNO members are being invited to share messages of support to [email protected]