Tauranga junior doctors who are walking off the job this week have decided to step in to help with community projects.

Junior doctors working for district health boards across the country, except Canterbury, today began a five-day strike over employment conditions, ending at 8am on May 4.

Tauranga Hospital junior doctor Dr Ralston D'Souza said the strikers would spend Wednesday volunteering for the Aongatete Forest Project, a conservation mission aiming to restore 500 hectares of native forest in the Kaimai Mamaku forest.

"We don't like striking but we thought if we could use our time productively we'd feel a bit better about it," D'Souza said.


The striking junior doctors also volunteered during their last 48-hour strike.

The arrangement came about after the collective got in touch with Volunteering Bay of Plenty to find a way to spend their striking time doing something positive for the community, instead of picketing around the hospital.

"[Aongatete Forest Project] has only got a small bunch of volunteers so even having a couple of extra hands for a couple of hours makes a big difference for them."

In addition to their volunteering with the conservation project, D'Souza said the strikers were in the process of organising one-on-one education sessions with community groups in Tauranga.

The details of that were still being ironed out but the aim was to place a doctor within a workshop that fitted their specialty.

The striking doctors were doing different things yesterday during the strike.

Some, including D'Souza, spent precious time with family before getting back to business later in the week.

Bay of Plenty District Health Board acting chief executive Dr Hugh Lees said it was not possible to know how many doctors would be taking strike action until the start of each shift.


Some non-urgent procedures and outpatient appointments had been deferred and the focus of the DHB's contingency planning was keeping patients and staff safe, he said.

The five-day-strike was over a failure by both the New Zealand Resident Doctors Association and the 20 district health boards to agree on proposed changes to the doctors' employment contract.

The strike covers all DHBs across the country except Canterbury, where the hospital remains under pressure from the March 15 shootings.

The main problem for the union was that district health boards wanted hospital chief executives to have the final say over working arrangements, rosters and hours rather than the union head office.

There are 192 junior doctors employed by the Bay of Plenty DHB but not all are association members.