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Doctors strike over pay talks

Wairarapa Hospital’s resident medical officers [RMOs] began a 25-hour strike at 7am today as part of nationwide action over pay negotiations.

However, both the New Zealand Residents Doctors’ Association [NZRDA] union and Health New Zealand Te Whatu Ora [HNZ] have made assurances that “life-preserving services” will be maintained during this time.

NZRDA Wellington regional representative Dr Kerry Appleton said that although HNZ has offered salary increases to most of New Zealand’s 2500, union members are striking for about 600 colleagues who would receive a 12 per cent pay cut under the current HNZ proposal.

The pay drop would affect RMOs training to be specialist doctors in “vulnerable” areas with significant shortages, such as psychiatry, public health, radiation oncology and GPs, Appleton said.

Although she was unable to say how many Wairarapa doctors will be striking, Appleton said the union membership includes “everyone from newly graduated medical house officers or house surgeons to senior registrars who could be one day away from becoming consultants [qualified specialists]”.

The strike is “important” considering the “huge pressures” felt across the RMO workforce, including a vacancy crisis of about 500 RMOs across New Zealand, she said.

“We know we are already very short of RMOs, and there are a number of factors that have contributed to that.

However, she said, “one way that we can prevent this number from rising is by creating an environment in which resident doctors in New Zealand are encouraged to stay here rather than going overseas. Part of that is fixing this pay offer.”

NZRDA has notified Health New Zealand of another strike on May 16 – 17.

“The important thing to note,” Appleton said, “is that Te Whatu Ora and the NZRDA work together to ensure that life-preserving services are maintained throughout these strikes.

“There will always be a level of staffing.”

Health New Zealand [HNZ] “guaranteed” in a recent statement that “no resident medical officer would receive a pay cut” and that it is undertaking “ongoing good faith bargaining” with NZRDA.

HNZ chief people officer Andrew Slater there is a focus on achieving a settlement and avoiding “potential disruption to patients and the wider health system”.

“Doctors and other health professionals will still be available during any strike action to ensure the continued availability of health services for those who need them,” he said.

“All emergency departments will remain open, and hospital patients will receive safe care.

“Unless you have been contacted directly, please attend any scheduled outpatient appointment or treatment.

“People with non-urgent ailments or injuries should contact their GP in the first instance.

“Anyone unsure whether they need emergency department care should contact their GP or Healthline [0800 611 116] for free advice.”

The NZRDA doctor’s strike is scheduled to end at 8am tomorrow.

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