A union representing Hawke's Bay Hospital's nursing and midwifery staff says workers are stretched to breaking point and the stand-down of 17 nurses for refusing the Covid-19 vaccine won't help them.
The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) supports the Government's vaccine mandate because it will ensure nurses and patients aren't exposed to the additional risks posed by unvaccinated staff members in what is a high-risk environment for Covid.
But it says Hawke's Bay Hospital's staffing woes weren't solved before the mandate, and there are fears those nurses still refusing the vaccine could be creating even more burnout among remaining staff.
Hawke's Bay District Health Board chief executive Keriana Brooking said 98 per cent of DHB staff had received their first dose of the vaccine and it continued to work with two per cent of staff identified where proof of vaccination or medical status was being worked through.
She said the 17 nurses stood down under the Public Health (Vaccinations) Order were a very small proportion of the more than 1,121 registered nurses employed by the DHB.
"These nursing roles are spread across DHB locations and services, which means the DHB can manage this short-term gap through careful rostering and monitoring," Brooking said.
Brooking said earlier this week the hospital could continue providing its hospital and health services without "compromising" clinical safety or quality patient care.
NZNO organiser Sue Wolland said the hospital had already been experiencing significant staff shortages and some nursing and midwifery staff feared it could lead to tragedy.
Wolland said the shortage of nurses, inadequate working conditions and a lack of resources were highlighted in a Provisional Improvement Notice (PIN) issued by the organisation relating to the Emergency Department, in September.
The PIN was issued because the union claimed the DHB had failed in its primary duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.
Wolland said issuing the PIN became necessary because repeated attempts to escalate concerns about dangerous working conditions, including stretched nursing staff, had been ignored or minimised.
Those issues were "very slowly" being addressed by the hospital but staff being stood down didn't help matters, she said.
"The hospital had a month to address the issues, and it was hugely disappointing that they didn't meet the deadline, so the PIN remains active."
Wolland said the nurses and staff had to "fill in the gaps" for those who had been stood down.
"They will be anxious ... mistakes will be made. They are fearful that a tragedy will happen because of staffing issues, and it will be out of their control."
She said the union was hoping staff recruitment and resourcing would go some way towards resolve the issues.
"We are hoping with borders opening and MIQ being made a little more accessible that recruitment will be more likely."
She said NZNO would have a meeting with the DHB again in a fortnight's time.
"We need to keep our foot on the throttle if we want to see any changes."