Hospitals start filling up as striking doctors return

By Errol Kiong

Hospitals assumed a semblance of normality yesterday as junior doctors returned to work after a five-day strike.

But the bitter employment dispute between district health boards and the union is still not over, with talks resuming tomorrow. Employers will table a fourth version of the Memorandum of Understanding - the document at the heart of the dispute.

The union representing senior doctors said the dispute was a battle for public support.

In its email newsletter to members, Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Ian Powell called the union's decision to call a strike "a tactical blunder, especially when the DHBs were determined to call the bluff".

Calling for further strikes would destroy any remaining support from senior doctors, he said. But the strike could not be blamed solely on the junior doctors.

"The DHBs have to take their share of responsibility with their hard-line approach of the seriously deficient Memorandum of Understanding."

Hospitals were yesterday busier following the end of the strike at 7am.

Anne Aitcheson, the health board's national co-ordinator for contingency planning, said most hospitals had restarted elective surgery and outpatient treatment, but it would be a few days before full services were resumed.

Auckland City Hospital reported it was 82 per cent full, which was lower than normal. A spokeswoman said the 173 postponed elective surgery procedures should be completed within two to three weeks, while the backlog of 1947 postponed outpatient appointments was expected to be cleared within two months.

Middlemore Hospital yesterday also began seeing some patients whose treatment had been rescheduled.

"This had been thought of as part of the pre-planning. Most of them will be seen in clinics within the next two weeks - a month at the latest," said acute services manager Dot McKeen.

Occupancy at North Shore Hospital was 73 per cent yesterday afternoon, while at Waitakere it was 53 per cent.

Rachel Haggerty, Waitemata DHB general manager of adult health services, said elective surgery and outpatient clinics remained closed yesterday to allow "clean-up".

Normal services should resume today, she said.

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