District health boards and nurses have reached an agreement to ensure safe staffing levels in public hospitals, Health Minister David Clark has announced.

"It is clear we've been asking too much of our nurses and their workloads are not sustainable. The Government has heard the message from DHB nurses and midwives loud and clear – we agree safe staffing must be a priority," Clark said today.

DHBs and the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) will sign an accord on Monday under which the DHBs and the Ministry of Health will work with the union to monitor the implementation of the Care Capacity Demand Management safe staffing tool.

"There will be clear accountability mechanisms in place to ensure the required staffing is delivered," Clark said in a statement.

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"In addition, a strategy will be developed to help retain existing nurses and midwives in the public health service, and attract others back into the workforce.

"The accord also includes a commitment to looking at providing employment and training for all New Zealand nursing and midwifery graduates."

Safe staffing levels has been a sticking point in negotiations between nurses and DHBs.

Clark said the Government's commitment to funding an extra 500 DHB nurses as part of the current collective employment negotiations still stood but there would be ongoing work to ensure DHBs delivered now and in future.

Health Minister David Clark said he had brokered the accord between DHBs, the NZNO and the Health Ministry.

When asked if his intervention meant he had lost confidence in DHBs and the ministry to achieve safe staffing, he said he was motivated by the ongoing concerns expressed in the media by nurses about the issue.

Clark said he would receive quarterly reports from the ministry on the progress of safe staffing under the new system.

Safe staffing has been at the heart of the NZ Nurses Organisation (NZNO) claims in talks with district health boards for a new collective agreement.

NZNO members will start voting next week on the DHBs' latest offer, which follows a 24 hour national strike this month.

The offer includes stepped pay rises of around 12 to 13 per cent for many members by August next year.

NZNO has also said it includes $38 million of new Government funding "to provide immediate relief for staffing and workload issues". This is on top of existing commitments for the full implementation of the "care capacity and demand management" programme.

Safe staffing has been an issue for nurses for more than a decade.

The forerunners of the new accord were established by the NZNO and DHBs in pay talks in 2005 when Labour was last in power.

Clark, when asked about the slow progress, said he couldn't answer for previous governments.

The CCDM is a programme that ensures DHBs are matching demand and resources to ensure patient safety, a safe workplace and organisational efficiency.

The DHBs' Safe Staffing Healthy Workplaces Unit developed the CCDM and works with DHBs and unions to implement the programme in accordance with the recommendations of the 2006 Safe Staffing Healthy Workplaces Committee of Inquiry Report.

The NZNO has taken a fourth offer to its members who will be balloted on it next week. Nurses went on strike two weeks ago in their first industrial action in 30 years over pay and staffing levels.