The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) says it’s worried the country’s health system, which is already in critical condition, could be completely overwhelmed by the inevitable Omicron outbreak.
NZNO agrees with the Association for Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) and the New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) that the understaffing situation is an emergency which, left unchecked, will have severe long-term repercussions for the health of Aotearoa New Zealand.
NZNO Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku says health care workers aren’t even coping with business as usual during summer with little COVID-19 in the community.
"Across all sectors, from DHB to primary care and iwi providers, we simply can’t keep up. Come Omicron, and come winter, we will see the system collapsing under the strain.
"That will mean our COVID patients will not get the best quality care. It will also cause delayed surgeries and cancelled clinics - which will hugely affect the population, especially when it comes to minimising preventable illnesses and treating diseases like cancer.
"We call this an emergency because it needs urgent action."
Ms Nuku said the Government must listen and respond to the concerns of health workers at the coalface. She said what NZNO is calling for includes Government-funded nursing recruitment drives, free nursing study, prioritised MIQ spots specifically for nurses and health care workers, supply of the best PPE, rapid antigen testing and robust home isolation procedures.
"Above all else though, we need people to want to join and remain in the profession. There is an international shortage of nurses, and we have for too long relied on staff from overseas.
"We’ve had to battle to get a half decent pay-rise for DHB workers and nurses have been discouraged by how long it has taken. Pay equity must be extended to all nurses regardless of their practice setting. In fact, we haven’t even come close to addressing pay injustices for community care, the private workforce, and especially nurses working for Māori and iwi providers.
"Now is the time to act boldly, with the interests of workers at the fore because without us there is no health system. And with the health system under such threat, we will see here the social and economic devastation occurring in Australia and elsewhere."