Wellington mental health staff ‘burning out’

November 1, 2020

NZNO is working with the Public Service Association (PSA) over staff and patient safety concerns at Wellington Hospital’s mental health and addictions service, Te Whare o Matairangi (TWM).

NZNO organiser Drew Mayhem said staff at the 30-bed unit were extremely fatigued and experiencing burnout, with high turnover and potential risk to patients.

“They can’t recruit staff, they can’t retain staff, they can’t train staff, so staff are burning out for that reason.”

The problems prompted both unions to write to Mental Health, Addictions and Intellectual Disability Service (MHAIDS) general manager Nigel Fairley in February over loss of staff, unsafe staffing, sexual assault, overcrowding and the use of seclusion rooms to house patients. The problems were at “crisis point”, the letter warned.

They were highlighted again in March after a visit by ombudsman Peter Boshier, who said TWM’s use of seclusion rooms to home patients was a breach of the United Nations’ convention against torture “and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”.

PSA delegate Ian Monzari said in a letter to Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand, union representatives were “encouraged by [management’s] willingness to acknowledge, and act upon, our concerns…” at a subsequent meeting in September.

Fairley said Capital & Coast District Health Board leadership had been “actively working in partnership with staff” over the past eight months to address concerns and was committed to working with staff and union partners to improve outcomes for staff and clients.

Despite COVID-19 disruptions, Fairley said progress had been made to:

  • Employ a new health and safety business partner experienced in nursing care quality.
  • Engage security staff to provide a sense of security of staff and clients.
  • Implement a de-escalation communication tool Safe Practice, Effective Communication training schedule.
  • Progress safer staffing levels where up to 16 staff work across a shift including registered nurses and mental health support workers.
  • Progress safe staffing tool Trendcare.
  • Use more suitable furnishings for seclusion rooms.

Mayhem said the problem was complicated, with mental health staff torn between their duty of care and lack of beds, as well as admissions being determined by off-site management, rather than by nurses’ professional judgement on-site. There was also a shortage of mental health nurses, he said.

Both the PSA and NZNO represent mental health nurses.