Skipping lunch breaks and working 10 hours overtime is causing Tauranga nurses to feel fatigued, stressed and forced to take extra sick leave, according to hospital employees.

Helen Tuck was one of about 100 nurses and healthcare professionals protesting about poor pay and staff shortages opposite Tauranga Hospital yesterday .

A Bay of Plenty District Health Board official says it respects the right of nurses and midwives to rally over pay claims and is thankful services were still running as usual.

Tuck, who was a registered nurse at Tauranga Hospital, said she and her colleagues often skipped lunch and worked an extra 10 hours on top of their 30 or 40-hour week.

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"You do feel as if you can't do another day. You feel quite fatigued," Tuck said.

"But it is because of the patients that you keep coming back. That is why we are here, because we care," she said.

Tuck said working overtime left nurses feeling fatigued and stressed, resulting in nurses needing to take sick leave.

"These nurses working overtime need to be recognised," she said.

Tuck wanted nurses' pay to reflect their qualification.

"We need the Government to make a bigger investment in public healthcare and pay nurses and midwifery teams fairly to ensure safe patient care and the right infrastructure is in place for our community and families."

Angela Neil, of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, said Bay of Plenty nurses were physically and mentally tired of being undervalued and underpaid.

Neil said many nurses worked through their lunch breaks and an unpaid hour after each shift ended.

"There is no downtime for nurses and those in the healthcare system," Neil said. "They want to get paid for what they are worth."

Neil said nurses were also campaigning for funding for more staff.

"This is about the future and attracting people into nursing and keeping them in nursing," Neil said.

"It is a great job, you get plenty of personal satisfaction out of it. But that personal satisfaction is getting lost."

Seeing signs with "We are here because we care" written in bold letters held high and hearing motorists tooting their support proved emotional for Tauranga nurse Lisa McAuley.

"We love our patients and providing care, but we would also love to be recognised for the value we bring to the healthcare system," McAuley said.

Bay of Plenty District Health Board chief executive Helen Mason said similar protests had been held nationwide and the DHB was thankful the rallies had not affected services.

"We respect the right of our nurses and midwives to hold a rally highlighting their pay claims and of their colleagues in supporting them," Mason said.

The DHBs and New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) were working to reach a mutually agreeable resolution and three Independent Panel Process members had been confirmed.

Mason says the panel meets for the first time next week and will receive submissions from the DHBs and NZNO before presenting final recommendations to each party and the Government by mid-May.

The DHBs will then make their updated offer to NZNO.

Another lunchtime demonstration was planned outside Whakatane Hospital today.

What do nurses want?
- A bigger investment in public healthcare
- Payment to reflect their qualifications
- Recognition
- Funding for more staff