Operations on hold as junior doctors go on strike

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House officer of Tauranga Hospital and Resident Doctors' Association Bay of Plenty delegate Dr Ash Ellis told the media last month that  gruelling rosters were putting patient safety at risk. Photo/File
House officer of Tauranga Hospital and Resident Doctors' Association Bay of Plenty delegate Dr Ash Ellis told the media last month that gruelling rosters were putting patient safety at risk. Photo/File

Bay of Plenty resident doctors were scheduled to walk off the job for 48 hours from 7am today, and 18 operations have been rescheduled.

Of the 145 resident doctors in Tauranga, about 100 were to strike along with around 3000 colleagues nationally. The action follows failed talks with district health boards over work hours and days.

BOPDHB's medical director Dr Hugh Lees said 18 operations had been deferred because of the strike. He said that the striking doctors shifts would be covered by a mixture of junior doctors who were not union members, and senior doctors. Some outpatient appointments had also been rescheduled,

"If patients have surgery or an Outpatient Department appointment booked on 18 or 19 October, in either Tauranga or Whakatane Hospital, they will be contacted by hospital staff to inform them of the status of their appointment or surgery."

Dr Lees said planning for the strike had been focused on how Tauranga and Whakatane Hospitals will manage without the striking junior doctors, while trying to reduce the impact on services for patients, allowing clinical staff to focus on patients in most need.

Last month the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend reported gruelling rosters were putting patient safety at risk - with some working 12 days straight and up to 16 hours a day, and some rosters involving seven night's work consecutively.

At the time, Tauranga Hospital house officer and New Zealand Resident Doctors' Association (NZRDA) Bay of Plenty delegate Dr Ash Ellis said patients were often "surprised and shocked" by the hours doctors were expected to work.

On the eve of the strike Dr Ellis said strike action was not something his colleagues were taking lightly.

''No health professional ever wants to strike, but that's the point that we've reached now. This is about trying to secure better patient safety for the future - we have robust processes to maintain patient care and safety in the hospital for the strike.''

He said while some progress had been made locally with changes to some rosters that have gone from seven nights in a row to no more than four nights in a row, it seemed progress had stalled.

''For four years we have tried at the regional level, and the District health Board (DHB) have suggested we continue, but we are stuck without making any progress at regional level so the resolve from us is that we want (rosters) nationally implemented and a timeline to achieve it .

''We've been hopeful all year that we could sort it out amicably at the negotiating table, and it's really disappointing that this is the point that we are at now.''

He said there has been a huge amount of support for the action.

''It's been soul warming to see the level of community support on line and on social media and also in person around the Bay of Plenty.''

He said the strike isn't about money, and ultimately some junior doctors could be paid less.

''With (fewer) weekends and consecutive nights that we work, we will obviously take a pay cut and we're all aware of that and we're going into the strike knowing that, but we also know that what we are trading off is a small reduction in our pay for safer working conditions for doctors and patients.''

DHB Shared Service represents the country's 20 DHBs and it's strategic services manager Mick Prior said DHBs have indicated that the CEOs will meeting after the strike to determine how to move forward with the workforce.

"The New Zealand Resident Doctors' Association had asked for the rosters to be no more than four nights in a row and to work no more than 10 days in a row with four days off," he said in a statement.

"DHBs have made three offers since August addressing the rosters. The most recent offer, made in mediation prior to the strike notice, gave a guarantee to split the seven day stretch of nights to 4:3 and guaranteed that resident medical officers (RMOs) would not be rostered more than 10 days in a row.

"The DHBs remain of the very reasonable view that RMOs should not get paid for the days off."

NZRDA national secretary Dr Deborah Powell said there were three areas of concern and described the statement regarding RMOs being paid for days off as a "mis-direct".

"The best (the DHBs) have done is make a commitment to get to no more than four (consecutive) night shifts and no more than 10 consecutive days.

"After four year of bargaining, a commitment isn't good enough, we want a contractual obligation to those hours - so that's a bone of contention for us.

"The second issue is that they are talking two years to achieve that commitment. We think that's too long and unnecessarily so

"And the third area is one of meaningful recuperative time - meaningful time to rest after these stretches, which will still be quite long. Ten days and 16 hour days is still quite a long stretch, so we want meaningful recuperative time so we can come back to work and there's been no offer from the employer on recuperative time.

"If we can get those things sorted out, then we've got a deal."

Dr Powell said DHBs have also been trying to claw back penal rates.

"The actual claim that the employers tabled was to take away our penal rates and we declined that because we will be still be working the penal hours."

Once the strike is over, Dr Powell said she hoped there will be further negotiations and there will be settlement, but didn't rule out further strike action.

''Our doctors are really quite resolute about getting to sort this out - they are concerned not only about themselves but also what they are doing with patients is very strongly felt by them.''

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) is supporting the New Zealand Resident Doctors Association (NZRDA) in their industrial dispute with District Health Boards (DHBs) over short staffing, long hours, and burnout.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
If patients have surgery or an Outpatient Department appointment booked on October 18 or 19, in either Tauranga or Whakatane Hospital, they will be contacted by hospital staff to inform them of the status of their appointment or surgery.

If patients are unsure about whether their appointment or surgery has been postponed, they should phone 0800 333 477 between 8am and 4.30pm.

Hospital emergency departments are for emergencies. If not an emergency, go to your GP or to one of the after-hours clinics. If wanting medical advice there is HealthLine 0800 611 116 available and in an emergency call 111. If people need after-hours medical care, they can also call their GP 24/7. When your GP clinic is closed a registered nurse will answer your call and give you the free professional advice you need.

Make sure you are up-to-date with prescriptions and other requirements.

Resident Doctors (RMOs or Resident Medical Officers) are registered medical practitioners, and range in experience from first-year qualified doctors to those with more than 12 years' experience. They primarily work in the public sector where they are employed by all 20 District Health Boards.

Resident doctors staff New Zealand's public hospital system, delivering 24/7 care to patients and also utilise this time to gain specialist qualifications as surgeons, physicians, paediatricians etc.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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