The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) says unpreparedness for COVID-19 and a sustained lack of investment in the resources required for safe staffing have left nurses and health care workers at Auckland District Health Board (ADHB) feeling unsafe and fearful for patient safety.
There have been more than 250 unsafe staffing incident reports in the last three months at ADHB which runs Auckland Hospital and the Greenlane Clinical Centre.
NZNO Organiser Justine Sachs said senior nurses have reported that inadequate resource allocation has led to a budget blow-out especially regarding nursing staff.
"To help cope, ADHB has stopped hiring or recruiting external nurses, and staff usually available to fill unexpected leave have been allocated to managed isolation facilities.
"This has resulted in extreme difficulty finding cover for unexpected leave. If someone calls in sick there is no one to replace them and this has created a staffing crisis."
Ms Sachs says nurses are telling NZNO the situation is so dangerous that they feel scared to come into work.
"Many are working unsustainable levels of overtime to make up for the shortfall, and they worry every single day about harm coming to patients as a result of unsafe staffing levels."
She said the situation is the result of our health care system prioritising financial and budgeting goals over patient and staff safety.
"We need our health care budget to meet patient and staff needs, not the other way around. The systematic underfunding of health care by successive governments has led to overrun hospitals and nurses struggling to meet patient needs safely.
"We’re also totally unprepared to manage any kind of sustained community outbreak of COVID-19 if we’re unable to meet normal patient demand. This pandemic has shown how important it is to have a well-resourced health care system.
"It’s just not good enough, and we could do so much better."