Cuts to the health sector have left Northland District Health Board staff overworked and not taking their holidays, Labour's Health spokeswoman Annette King says.

A total of 395,880 hours of annual leave is owed to staff, but health board CEO Nick Chamberlain says the leave - which equals 9897 40-hour weeks or 198 hours per full-time equivalent employee (FTE) - is not unreasonable and he does not accept this means staff are not taking their annual leave entitlements or are overworked.

Dr Chamberlain said the DHB was one of the largest employers in Northland, with 2677 staff or 2069 FTEs. The accrued annual leave is worth $15,807,912 and equates to an average of 18.5 days (148 hours) per employee or 24.7 days (198 hours) per FTE.

Ms King said the Government's cuts to the health sector had left doctors and nurses stretched to breaking point, with more than eight million hours of annual leave owed nationally, with an average of 146 hours per health employee. This could impact on patient safety.


"We're now seeing the results - health professionals and other DHB staff so overworked they have had to put off taking millions of hours of annual leave," she said.

"Such large numbers of missed holidays show just how stretched our health sector has become. Thousands of health professionals [are] putting off a break because there is no one to cover when they are away. The spectre of tired, overworked medical staff making mistakes should surely ring alarm bells.

"Only last month the nurses' organisation was saying its members are increasingly being asked to take on more responsibilities and heavier workloads."

But Dr Chamberlain said the DHB has always monitored annual leave to ensure staff take the leave they are entitled to.

"During the annual Christmas/New Year reduction in activity [outpatients and elective surgery] we also encourage staff to take between two and three weeks' leave to enjoy the summer holidays," he said.

"Staff members with greater than 240 hours' leave are encouraged by management to take leave. All frontline staff who take annual leave are replaced by other staff or locums to ensure that health services are not compromised."