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Nurses in national protest

Hundreds of motorists joined the region’s healthcare workers as they took to the street in protest on Saturday.

Drivers tooted as they passed about 50 workers, mainly nurses, gathered with banners and placards outside Masterton’s town hall.

Messages included “We need nurses” and “Safe staffing, safe care”.

Wairarapa nurses joined colleagues in 20 centres nationwide to protest ongoing staff shortages and stressful working conditions. They called on all political parties to address the problems.

The NZNO asked all of its 57,000 members to join Saturday’s action, including nurses, midwives, healthcare assistants and kaimahi hauora in hospitals, aged care, primary health care, Plunket, hospices, and other health services.

Amber Cox, an NZNO delegate at Wairarapa hospital, said the event was a success.

“We got a huge amount of support from cars going past. It was really successful in terms of getting the nursing workforce out there and heard. There was vigorous tooting,” she said.

Cox and other healthcare workers are concerned about the impact winter illnesses might have on an under-pressure healthcare system.

“We are going to have a lot more covid. We can also expect a flu surge as well as RSV in children.”

Cox expected the hospital to come under intense pressure in the coming months as staff struggled to cope with increasing numbers of seriously ill patients.

“This could mean planned surgeries will probably be affected, due to a lack of beds. Nurses are tired and ready to have their voices heard. We are angry, and we feel undervalued in the work we do,” she said.

Lucy McLaren is a nurse practitioner who formerly worked in the ED at the hospital, but is now in the primary care sector. She is on the national governing board of the NZNO and spoke at the rally.

She said primary care was in serious trouble.

“The shortages are awful. We are seeing people who should have been seen but have not been. People are on crutches and morphine who shouldn’t be,” she said, describing those who were waiting for joint replacements.

“GP practice nurses have not been given the pay parity they should have been. I can’t see anything has changed over the past two years.

“This is about nurses being paid the same, treated the same and valued the same. Why should a nurse in aged care be treated differently from a nurse in ED in Wellington,” McLaren asked.

Andrew Slater, Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand chief people officer, acknowledged there were problems, and said the organisation was working to fix them.

“We share our nurses’ aspirations for our health system,” he said.

“We know that we are not there yet. We know our health workforce is under strain.

“These aren’t problems that can be fixed overnight. 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.”

Slater said some progress had been made, including giving about 34,000 nursing staff pay raises.

“The Government has committed up to $200 million annually to reduce pay disparities.”

He said there had also been a strong focus on getting more health workers to the front line.

“We’ve launched a new international recruitment campaign and a health immigration service, given extra support to internationally qualified nurses and those in New Zealand who aren’t in practice to get ready for work in nursing, and we’re already funding 60 per cent more nurse practitioner training places than in 2022.”

Slater said more effort was going into local training, and the organisation was currently in discussions with the NZNO about a collective agreement.

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