The unprecedented strike of senior doctors and dentists will go ahead next week after a weekend of failed mediation between Te Whatu Ora - Health New Zealand and the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS).
The strike will take place nationwide on Tuesday from midday until 2pm at public hospitals and other health facilities where senior medical officers work.
It will include an estimated 5500 doctors and 100 dentists.
If mediation fails again after this, a further strike between 10am and 12pm on September 13 has also been confirmed, as well as a four-hour strike on another date.
Some 250 planned medical operations will be postponed, in addition to outpatient visits during the strike.
Sarah Dalton, chief executive of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS), told the Herald this was the first time the union had gone on a nationwide strike.
Dalton stated members wanted pay increases in line with the consumers price index (CPI) and expressed optimism Te Whatu Ora would “think again” in light of the strike action.
“Some of our members tell us they reckon the senior staffing levels during those, that hour or two, will be as good as if not better than what it normally would be,” she claimed.
Dalton made it clear life-saving measures for patients would not be affected in any way.
Chief people officer at Te Whatu Ora, Andrew Slater, said they are “frustrated and extremely disappointed” the ASMS is refusing to take the latest offer for settlement to their members for consideration.
Te Whatu Ora has offered senior doctors and dentists salary increases over the next year of between 7 per cent and 12.9 per cent. This amounts to an increase of between $15,000 and $26,000.
“We have been clear with the union that we have put all that we can on the table. To invest more would involve having to make funding reprioritisations elsewhere,” Slater said.
“We’ve also been clear that a protracted dispute will distract us all from getting on with the job of working on solutions for a range of workforce challenges.”
Dalton has hit back, claiming this was not the offer put on the table.
“I can tell you now that if we, if what they have put on the table would have offered, annualised, that level of increase to our members, we would have snapped it up, but it’s not,” Dalton said.
“It’s just part of the landscape. It’s a service-based increase - they have built in the value of that increase into what they claim is the value of the settlement,” Dalton said.
“I find it really disappointing when an organisation, like, tries to put responsibility for its systems-level failings on to the shoulders of individual doctors or health workers.”
Slater confirmed the figures were simply an increase to a 15-point system they already have in place, where the doctors receive a pay increase each year after a pay review.
He also said they have offered an additional top level so those who have already completed 15 years in the industry would be eligible for a pay increase as well.
Te Whatu Ora claimed senior medical officers, New Zealand’s most experienced and well-trained doctors, have an average total salary of $318,000, including additional payments for shift work and superannuation.
Dalton said she had yet to meet a doctor in New Zealand that earned that much, and wondered where the figure was coming from.
On Monday last week, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the best way to resolve the dispute with senior doctors was to get back around the bargaining table.
Hipkins said he didn’t want to see any medical staff on strike, and Te Whatu Ora would have contingency plans in place.
Lone Kāpiti public sector psychiatrist to join the strike
Professor Marie Bismark is the sole remaining public sector psychiatrist for adults on the Kāpiti Coast and will be leaving her “stressful” post to strike on Tuesday.
She will be joined by over 5,000 of her fellow union members nationwide as senior doctors and dentists walk off the job for two hours after failed mediations with Te Whatu Ora.
Bismark said she worked 50 per cent more than her contracted hours, filling the roles of three doctors.
She was scouted by Australian companies when she trained in Australia and was offered 50 to 100 per cent more than her current pay level in New Zealand. In one instance, she was offered $3,500 a day as a locum.
“And so I always knew that the pay was going to be less in New Zealand than I would have got in Australia,” Bismark said.
“I didn’t expect that it would go backwards in real terms.”
She wants to stay in the community she came back for, the place she grew up in and loves. However, she’s reaching the end of her rope, she said.
“I feel a huge sense of guilt and worry on my non-clinical days knowing that there is no psychiatrist for adults in the region.”
“And from a patient’s perspective, it means that waitlists to be seen get longer.
“Sometimes if people have a crisis in their mental health and there’s no doctor available, they’re having to go to Wellington and sit in the emergency department for many, many hours.”
Without a doctor available to chart drugs or conduct Mental Health Act evaluations, Bismark said nurses in Kāpiti are addressing potentially life-threatening crisis mental health presentations on their own on days when there is no psychiatrist on duty.
Her coworkers have left for a range of reasons. Some were tempted by the higher pay in other countries; others retired early due to the burden and were exhausted due to limited staffing numbers.
Bismark said they have no junior doctors working in psychiatry, and it was a concerning issue nationwide that more people were leaving the profession than coming into it.
“I think at the moment, the system is being held together by a huge amount of goodwill and additional hours and excess work by senior doctors, but it’s not a sustainable situation,” Bismark said.