Concerns have been raised that Bay of Plenty's doctors and nurses are becoming overworked and stretched to breaking point because of issues with annual leave.
Figures released to the Bay of Plenty Times by Labour, which requested the data under the Official Information Act, showed more than 40 per cent of Bay of Plenty District Health Board staff were owed more than four weeks of annual leave as of June 30, 2015. The amount of leave owing in the Bay had steadily climbed over the past five years from 34.17 per cent in 2010/11 to 41.25 per cent 2014/15, according to the figures.
It's not good for our members, for their well-being. It's not good for their families with them working unnecessarily long hours. It's a pretty stretched system.
But the Bay of Plenty District Health Board has responded by saying its staff workloads were well managed and it aimed for staff to take their full annual leave entitlement each year.
Public Service Association national secretary Erin Polaczuk said the union was concerned some of its members were suffering because of shortfalls in the system.
"It's absolutely an issue and it's an issue for the patients in the care of our members. I have some sympathy with where the DHBs are at - they don't have enough funding to do what they need to do and our members end up picking up the slack," she said.
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"It's not good for our members, for their well-being. It's not good for their families with them working unnecessarily long hours. It's a pretty stretched system. We hear from a lot of our members about how tiring and how stressful it is."
Ms Polaczuk said union members would do what was best for patients, "sometimes at the expense of themselves and their families".
"People don't get into caring professions if they don't care. So our members do wear it. They will do the work because it needs to be done."
Bay of Plenty District Health Board general manager corporate services Letham White said the board was proud of the relationship it had with its staff and the unions and had led the way in the use of a staffing system which determined how many staff were needed, dependant on the numbers of patients being treated and how sick they were.
"The result is that our staff workloads are very well managed," he said.
Mr White said the board took its responsibilities as a good employer seriously and aimed for employees to take their full annual leave entitlement each year.
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Bay of Plenty District Health Board staff were not allowed to accrue more than two years' entitlement without express written permission. Ideally leave should be taken within 12 months of entitlement, Mr White said.
"Annual leave requests are considered by managers and approval is dependent on the ability to maintain services to patients. There are some periods of peak demand (such as New Year) where, in order to maintain safe staffing levels for our patients, leave requests may be declined. During these periods leave requests will be considered in light of factors such as leave requests already received or leave already taken."
Mr White said about 394 staff were on annual leave in an average week, working out to about 12 per cent of total staff.
Labour health spokeswoman Annette King said health professionals and other district health board staff were so overworked they had to put off taking millions of hours of annual leave nationwide.
"The spectre of tired, overworked medical staff making mistakes should surely ring alarm bells," she said.
"Our health workers are making a heroic effort to continue to care for Kiwis despite the lack of resources from the Government.
"...Patients shouldn't have to rely on their health professionals giving up their holidays so they can get the care they need."