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Staff levels critical

Big gaps at DHB filled by non-nursing workers

Wairarapa DHB staff face relentless pressure with almost 100 off work due to covid as chronic staff shortages bite.

Wairarapa DHB chief executive Dale Oliff confirmed the DHB had a total of 44 full time equivalent [FTE] staff vacancies as of March 20.

In addition to the 44 vacancies, or almost nine per cent of the workforce, a further 94 staff had been on sick leave because of covid. Staff were either infected with covid themselves, or isolating due to being a household contact.

While the full staff complement would be 501, with vacancies it was currently down to 457.

That means about one in five Wairarapa DHB staff had been off work over a period of time due to covid.

After two years of responding to the pandemic and often working on short-staffed shifts where it is very difficult to achieve a safe skill mix, the nursing workforce is very fatigued. The fortitude on display during every shift, while impressive, is not sustainable.
– Wairarapa DHB director of nursing, Phill Halligan

Oliff said in the first three months of this year, although 16 staff had resigned, 37 new staff had been recruited.

In February the DHB reported 63 FTE staff vacancies. Of the 63, the ED alone required a total of 7.1FTE nursing and medical staff to be at full complement.

Phill Halligan, Wairarapa DHB director of nursing, recently presented a report to the DHB board.

He described the impact of omicron on the workforce during March.

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“A call for assistance has resulted in staff from non-nursing roles all over the DHB stepping forward and assisting wherever they can to fill a burgeoning number of roster gaps and covid-related staff absences,” he said.

“After two years of responding to the pandemic and often working on short-staffed shifts where it is very difficult to achieve a safe skill mix, the nursing workforce is very fatigued. The fortitude on display during every shift, while impressive, is not sustainable.”

Kieran McCann, the DHB’s chief operating officer reported the same issues to the board, and said in most instances all but essential services had been cut.

“The impact of covid has seen the hospital scale back to reduced services. Most deferrable and nonurgent service have been stopped to reassign resources and staff in order to maintain critical service operations,” he said.

“The impact on operational delivery is already evident in the later February data and will be significantly represented in the reporting of next month’s [April’s] result. It is of note that the staff response to the covid surge has been incredible and everyone and each service has worked far and above normal hours and provided additional support to maintain the provision of Hospital services to our community.”

Stephanie Thomas is a New Zealand Nurses Organisation [NZNO] organiser for the central North Island. She said the DHB was understaffed before covid, and although things had got worse since then the problem was not new.

“There are not enough nurses. The nursing workforce is aging and many are coming to the end of their working life,” she said.

Thomas said a long term solution was needed that was not dependent on recruiting offshore.

“We need to train our own. Care is compromised if there are not sufficient staff. At the moment, staff are being redeployed, but that is not a long term solution. Where do you redeploy from?” Thomas asked.

“Every area nurses are working are short-staffed. Nurses would feel better if realistic plans were put in place to deal with mid to long-term staffing issues.”

Thomas said a short-term solution was to bring nurses in from offshore, but few if any had come into New Zealand since the borders had closed.

“There are now fewer nurses in New Zealand than there were two years ago,” she said.

Oliff said a recent recruitment drive had shown results, but expected staffing challenges to continue.
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“We have been pleased by the response received and have made a number of offers,” she said.

“The DHB is likely to continue to feel the impacts of the national and international shortages, the covid pandemic and resulting closed borders for a number of months to come.”

Oliff said new vacancies were expected, with annual staff attrition rates of about 14 per cent.

“Wairarapa, as one of the six lower North island DHBs, has exhibited at two fairs so far [Dublin and London] and the response to our sites has been positive. The DHBs have received a number of expressions of interest from visitors to the job fairs and are actively following up on these.”

The DHB was also taking part in two further job fairs this month in the UK.

Oliff said the DHB was committed to filling vacancies as soon as possible.

 

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