Resident doctors have threatened a nationwide strike in pursuit of demands for what their union says are "safer rosters and safer hours".

New Zealand's resident doctors - ranging from junior house officers through to senior trainee specialists - are at the heart of medical care in public hospitals. Strikes by them cause major disruption.

The planned strike will be a complete withdrawal of labour from 7am on Tuesday October 18 until 7am on Thursday October 20.

All 20 district health boards will be affected by the action by members of the Resident Doctors Association.

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"It is extremely disappointing it has come to this," said the association's national secretary, Deborah Powell.

"However, the DHBs' resistance to meaningfully improve current unsafe rostering practises has left us no choice. We have yet to see sufficient real change in the system after four years of engagement and 10 months of bargaining.

"We see no other way to secure safer rosters for our nation's doctors and the patients we care for."

The association says: "Currently resident doctors work rosters including seven nights in a row and 12 days in a row. The RDA believes this roster is unsafe for patients and unsafe for doctors."

The association wants DHBs to agree to:
• Replace seven nights in a row with a maximum of four nights in a row followed by three days off, and
• Move from 12 days in a row followed by two days off to rosters with a maximum of 10 days in a row and four days off.