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Nurses picket and protest

Masterton nursing staff and supporters are joining thousands of others in protest across New Zealand today as health workers call on the government to take urgent action ahead of a possible winter staffing crisis.

All 57,000 members of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation [NZNO] have been asked by the organisation to take part in rallies and other activities today to highlight understaffing and poor working conditions as they prepare for the seasonal increase in illness.

Thousands of nurses, midwives, health care assistants and others are expected to rally in 20 different centres, including Masterton. They want all political parties to have policies in place to address the problems.

The action is expected to include all nursing staff in hospitals, aged care, Maori and Iwi, Primary Health Care, Plunket, and hospices.

NZNO Wairarapa hospital delegate Amber Cox said the public rally outside Masterton town hall today is an opportunity for people to show support
for local healthcare workers.

She expects this winter will be tough for the sector.

“There will be more impact with winter. Staff will get sick. There is a lot of covid about, and people need to be proactive about getting their vaccinations. Planned surgeries could also be affected,” Cox warned.

“We are chronically short-staffed.”

“The government are not doing anything to improve the numbers of nurses in New Zealand. If we don’t pay a competitive rate, we won’t attract and retain the nurses that are needed.

“This rally is about respecting and valuing every nurse in terms of their pay and working conditions,” she said.

Cox did not rule out future strike action.

“There is a good chance nurses will want to take further action if the necessary changes don’t happen.”

NZNO chief executive Paul Goulter said nurses have continued to deliver in spite of facing big challenges.

“Decades of poor planning, inadequate funding and outright neglect across successive governments have led us to a time of absolute crisis in terms of pay, staffing resources, and morale across the nursing sector,” he said.

Goulter said patient care has been compromised.

“That’s worrying for our elderly and infirm, but it’s also soul-destroying for nurses. Add to that poor conditions, chronic overwork, and the government’s refusal to settle outstanding pay issues, and it’s no wonder thousands have left for Australia, and thousands more are making plans to leave.”

Goulter said between 4000 and 5000 more nurses are needed across New Zealand, as well as better pay and conditions, including free training and incentives for nursing students.

NZNO will be launching a petition on the issue at the rallies.

Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand chief people officer Andrew Slater said the organisation is committed to a Tiriti-based health system, to growing the nursing workforce and the proportion of Maori and Pacific nurses, as well as valuing nurses across the system, and making training accessible.

“We share our nurses’ aspirations for our health system. A system that is equitable, sustainably staffed, and where New Zealanders can access excellent planned and urgent care when they need it – that is what we’re working towards,” he said.

Slater acknowledged there is work to do, with the system facing ongoing challenges.

“We know our health workforce is under strain – and has been since covid-19 arrived on our shores. We are still grappling with the impact covid-19 has had on our system, including on planned care and on our frontline staffing – and we have a global shortage of health workers,” he said

Slater said it will take time to fix the problems, but Te Whatu Ora is committed to working with the NZNO and others on improving conditions.

“We’re focused on what we can do today to make our nurses’ lives easier, and how we can grow numbers across all our health workforces over time.”

The Masterton protest event is taking place today between 11am-1pm outside the town hall in Chapel St.

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