Local healthcare workers and patients joined forces to take part in a national roadshow to highlight the "missing workers: in the health system.
Two hundred life-size cut-outs were erected outside Tauranga Hospital yesterday to bring attention to what demonstrators say is a lack of funding in the country's health sector.
Each of the 200 life-size cardboard figures represents what the union estimates is 100 missing workers from the New Zealand health system, including 400 missing ambulance staff and 8600 nurses.
The cardboard message was part of a Public Service Association-funded roadshow called "Yes We Care" aimed at raising public awareness of what they view as underfunding in the health system.
The YesWeCare.nz coalition included 83,000 people working in the health sector and their unions, and the People's Mental Health Review.
PSA spokesman Simon Oosterman said the Council of Trade Union estimated that the health system was underfunded by $1.85bn last year.
That was equivalent to 20,000 extra health workers, he said.
Mr Oosterman said health funding was simply not keeping up with the country's growing and ageing population.
"There has been a lot of talking about the housing crisis, but equally we need to do more to address the country's health crisis," he said.
He did not blame the country's district health boards, but the Government for the health sector's funding woes.
"This isn't about the DHBs but the lack of funding they receive to deliver much-needed services to people who deserve far better," he said.
The "Yes We Care" road show campaign was aimed at making health sector funding gaps a major election issue, Mr Oosterman said.
Gate Pa parents Belinda and Ivan Sullivan have three adult children who are autistic.
Mrs Sullivan said she and her husband had added their voices to the "Yes We Care" campaign.
"It has taken us five years to fight to get some help for one of our two sons. We should be able to get access to all the support we need without having a major battle," she said.
"But we are just one in a number of families in this community fighting to get access to the all resources and support we need."
Mrs Sullivan said when she looked at how much Government support was poured into major sporting events such as All Blacks World Cup campaign, it made her angry.
Another parent whose daughter suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, but did not wish to be named, said due to lack of resources there were long waiting list just to get a diagnosis, let alone access support.
Also at the protest was Margaret Richardson, whose story about featured in the Bay of Plenty Times last week about her 3-month-wait to see a Tauranga Hospital oncologist.
The "Yes We Care" campaign was travelling to 38 towns and cities across the country.
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman was unavailable for comment last night
A YesWeCare,nz survey of 60,000 health workers also found
61 per cent said access to health care in the past five years had decreased
72 per cent said their workload and work pressures were unreasonable
84 per cent said their workload and pressures had risen in the past 5 years.