In their first national strike for 30 years, nurses are poised to walk off the job today, adding to hospitals’ winter woes.

CAL ROBERTS
cal.roberts@age.co.nz

Today’s planned nurses’ strike could not come at a worse time for public health with the effects of winter having started to test hospitals’ abilities.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation confirmed on Tuesday that nurses had voted to start a 24-hour strike at 7am today despite a new offer last Monday.

It would be the first national nurses’ strike in almost 30 years.

Wairarapa District Health Board chief executive Adri Isbister said it was disheartening to hear an agreement could not be reached but officials had put preparations in place.

“Our number one priority is patient safety. We have put a lot of time into hospital and community nursing planning to ensure we can continue to provide acute care and emergency services on Thursday.”

The DHB reduced services in the days leading up to, and during, the strike.

NZNO organiser for Wairarapa Laura Thomas, said on a typical Thursday, there could be “over a hundred” nurses on-site – but just 45 nurses will be working to maintain
life-preserving services today.

NZNO chief executive Memo Musa said DHBs were traditionally already under pressure in winter.

“We know this is the time when occupancies are high.

“But in any contingency planning, it is the employer’s responsibility to scale down services to a point where you have life-preserving services in place.”

Musa said “more than a couple of thousand” nurses would still be on the job nation-wide today.

NZNO and DHBs are required by law to work together to ensure there are enough people with the right specialist skills available when needed.

Services include emergency care and surgery, paediatric wards and maternity units, therapeutic services without which life would be put at risk, urgent diagnoses of conditions that could threaten life or cause permanent disability, and treatment to prevent permanent disability

Nurses tasked with life-preserving services will not be performing normal responsibilities. They will only provide duties essential to these services today.

The scale of services would differ from hospital to hospital.

National DHB spokeswoman Helen Mason said hospitals had already experienced significant disruption as a result of deferring services in the lead-up to last week’s cancelled strike.

“It’s still not too late to prevent this disruption and we urge the NZNO and its members to help us try and find a way forward.”

There was ongoing facilitation under way in Wellington on Tuesday between DHBs and the NZNO to find a solution that could have prevented today’s strike.

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters said government was preparing for today’s strike but maintained there was still time to avoid the planned industrial action.

“The government is naturally very, very disappointed.

“We encourage DHBs and the NZNO to continue with urgent facilitation talks over the next two days.

“As it stands though, we are on track for a strike action on Thursday which will cause disruption to health services nationwide.”

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Services will be severely limited at Wairarapa Hospital during the strike.

Outpatient, elective surgery and day procedure units will be closed. Community nursing services will have limited cover.

Child and adolescent mental health will operate as normal. Adult mental health will not be booking routine appointments for today but will be available for crisis and respite support as well as for after-hours services.

Do not delay seeking medical treatment and go to hospital if the matter is urgent. As always, dial 111 in an emergency.