‘We are sick and tired of being burnt out’ — safe staffing bus tour starts with a sizzle in the far North

June 10, 2024

Nurses in Northland, Nelson and Palmerston North kicked off an 11-day safe staffing bus tour of Aotearoa on Monday with a sizzle in the sunny north — and some drizzle further south.

The ratio justice bus tour runs from June 10 to 21 and is part of NZNO — Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa’s campaign for mandated nurse/midwife-to patient ratios across the health system.

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‘ Most days are not safe — it’s very scary.’

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In Nelson, nurse Jackie Diago said she and colleagues were demanding safe workplaces, for staff and patients.

“We are sick and we are tired of being burnt out and we can’t provide the care we want to for our patients. It’s not safe — most days are not safe.  It’s very scary,” she told Kaitiaki.

Jackie Diago (centre) in Nelson.

‘It does make us feel a bit horrible if we can’t deliver the patient care we want.’

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Diago said the hospital was regularly understaffed, forcing staff to rush which risked things being missed.

But in Nelson today, she said they were “having a blast” kicking off the campaign with an atmosphere that was a mix of anger, frustration and people “happy we are taking steps”.

Members and supporters took the ratio justice bus from Whangārei to Kawakawa.

Speaking from Kawakawa, Northland nurse Chantelle Thompson said in the hospital where she worked, staffing had been okay until the recent Te Whatu Ora budget-tightening which had left them short-staffed again.

“It does make us feel a bit horrible if we can’t deliver the patient care we want,” she said. “Especially if someone needs some TLC or extra support, and we don’t have enough staff.”

Thompson said it had already been difficult to fill night shifts before and now staff were being put in professionally risky situations without enough hands.

“The higher our workload, the higher the safety risk for us — and for people we want to delivery quality care to,” she said.

Nurse Chantelle kicks off the nationwide bus tour with a sausage sizzle in Whangārei.
Chantelle Thompson in Whangārei on Monday.

In Palmerston North, mental health nurse Saju Cherian said nurses were enjoying lots of public support despite “pretty crap” weather.

‘This tells me we have the power of the public behind us. And this campaign — we will win it.’

NZNO president Anne Daniels said from Nelson members were enjoying “amazing” public support.

“People seem well informed about how hard nurses have to work just to keep people safe.  This tells me we have the power of the public behind us. And this campaign — we will win it.”

Daniels said it was not only about numbers, but skill mix and culturally safe care for everyone, including Māori and Pacific. More Māori and Pacific nurses were needed to care for those growing populations.

Manawatū members braved chillier temperatures in Palmerston North.

Aged care and primary health also had high need of safer staffing levels, she said.

Last month’s Budget did little more than “keep the lights on . . . and it’s not going to meet the needs and aspirations of the Pae Ora [Health Futures] Act [2022], which is to have a healthy country, not a sick one”, Daniels said.

“This Government is one of broken promises and people are actually aware of what it’s going to take to get the care they need, particularly in primary health care.”

Anne Daniels with Nelson deputy mayor Rohan O’Neill-Stevens on Monday.

Recent Te Whatu Ora data released to NZNO showed how consistently understaffed hospitals were, which made it difficult for nurses to provide safe care as required by their nursing competencies, Daniels said.

“It’s about giving patients the care they deserve.”

NZNO is campaigning for legislated  nurse-to-patient ratios, as have been introduced California, British Colombia (Canada), Ireland, Wales and many parts of Australia.

Queensland introduced patient ratios in 2016 for acute medical and surgical wards, and some mental health units, after nearly 10 years of lobbying by the Queensland Nurses & Midwives Union (QNMU). In 2019, it was extended to all adult acute mental health wards.  In 2023, Queensland also committed to implement midwifery ratios in all public maternity wards by 2026.

NZNO chief executive Paul Goulter said evidence showed ratios brought better health outcomes for patients and less burnout for health workers.

One Kiwi nurse recently described to Kaitiaki her experience of working with mandated ratios in Queensland, saying they allowed her to give proper patient care.

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Ratio Justice Bus Tour 10-21 June

Monday 10 June

  • Whangārei, 8am-12pm, public leafleting at 42 Port Road (on the roadside).
  • Kawakawa, 1.30-3.30pm, public leafleting at Kawakawa Library Carpark.
  • Palmerston North, 1-4.30pm, The Square (i-site carpark), public leafleting.
  • Nelson, 9.30-11am visit/morning tea at PHO and Nelson Hospital. 11.30-1.30pm sausage sizzle and leafleting at busy lunch area on Trafalgar St. 2pm meeting at Suter Café with Mayor Nick Smith and Deputy Mayor Rohan O’Neill-Stevens.

Tuesday 11 June

  • Kerikeri, 8-11am, public leafleting at Kerikeri Domain.
  • Waipapa, 10-11am, public leafleting at Klinac Lane.
  • Kaitāia, 10.30am-1.30pm, public leafleting at the Town Square.
  • Waipukurau, 1.30-3.30pm, Railway Station by cafe, public leafleting.
  • Blenheim, 11am-4.30pm, lunch at Manu Ora. In the afternoon leaflet Blenheim town centre by the band rotunda. 3pm meeting at the Raupo Café with members and local decision-makers.

Wednesday 12 June

  • Kaikohe, 10.30am-1.30pm, public leafleting at Broadway Health.
  • Hastings, 8am-12pm, Bay Plaza carpark, public leafleting.
  • Napier, 1-4.30pm, Marine Parade outside Masonic Hotel by statue, public leafleting.
  • Kaikōura, 10.30-11am, outside the medical centre, public leafleting.
  • Christchurch, 2.30-3.30pm informational picket at Hillmorton Hospital.

Monday 17 June

  • Hamilton, 8-10am, Garden Place near the Library, informational picket.
  • Hamilton, 10.30am-12pm, Meade Clinic, Waikato Hospital cafe area, informational picket.
  • Tauranga, 3-4pm, Te Papa o Ngā Manu Porotakataka, Mt Maunganui Town Centre, 131 Maunganui Road, engage with public.
  • Levin, 1-3pm, carpark directly behind New World, 33-37 Bath St, informational picket.
  • Dunedin, 9am-4.30pm, informational picket in Meridian, BBQ and informational picket in Octagon.

Tuesday 18 June

  • Tauranga, 8.30-9.30am, Gate Pa shops, informational picket.
  • Rotorua, 12-2.30pm, Hīkoi from Kuirau Park to Rotorua Hospital district nursing area, informational picket.
  • Whanganui, 8-11am, Watt Street near Majestic Square, informational picket.
  • Hāwera, 1-3pm, Albion Street side of Pak’nSave, informational picket.
  • Balclutha, 10am-12pm, informational picket in carpark by War Memorial, leaflet drop in Countdown.
  • Gore, 2-4.30pm, informational picket, leaflet drop outside MP offices.

Wednesday 19 June

  • Whakatāne, 8.30-9.30am, The Hub Bunnings, informational picket.
  • Whakatāne, 10-11am, Whakatane Library Green, 49 Kakahoroa Drive, informational picket.
  • New Plymouth, 8am-1pm, informational picket.
  • Invercargill, 10am-4.30pm, informational picket.

Thursday 20 June

  • Gisborne, 8am-12pm, informational picket.
  • Queenstown, 11.30am-4.30pm, informational picket at Frankton shopping centre carpark (Warehouse and Bunnings locale), carpark leaflet drop.