Waikato Hospital nurses who took positions at managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) hotels to help combat the Covid-19 pandemic are now struggling to get their old jobs back.
More than 20 nurses - who previously worked in the hospital's theatre, general medicine and mental health wards - understood they would be able to return to their original roles at the DHB after their MIQ work was complete.
"We volunteered out of the generosity of and goodness of our hearts," one nurse who didn't want to be named told the Herald.
"We feel like we're being punished for putting our hands up to help out with the pandemic," she said.
While other DHBs redeployed their hospital nurses to MIQ facilities on a secondment basis, meaning they could easily transition back into their old roles, those at Waikato DHB were given new permanent positions.
In March, they were told by DHB management they would be "temporarily reassigned" to the Nursing Resource Team (NRT) to assist with the "current hospital crisis", emails seen by the Herald showed.
This meant each shift they turned up and could be placed anywhere in the hospital, wherever needed.
If staff didn't want to take up a position within the resource team, they could use annual leave but, the nurse said, if they didn't have any leave they wouldn't be paid.
They were instructed to apply for jobs available on the DHB's website. The nurse the Herald spoke to said they were not being well supported through this process.
"If nothing is suitable we will be made redundant," she said.
Health Minister Andrew Little said he was "very shocked" to hear MIQ nurses weren't able to get their old jobs back.
"That isn't right [...], we have a shortage of nurses and I would like to think we are taking every opportunity we can to fill the vacancies we have in the public health system."
The advice he had been given was that MIQ staff were being absorbed back into the system, and so they should be, the minister said.
Waikato DHB acting executive director of organisational support Jacquie Sherborne said as MIQ hotels were being phased out, they were working with nursing staff to support them into hospital-based roles within the DHB.
"Our goal is to retain this skilled workforce and to place all those who wish to take up opportunities across our hospital services."
She said most roles within Waikato MIQ facilities were permanent positions and were filled by a mix of new external recruits and DHB staff who were seeking a new challenge.
"We are now working through a redeployment process with MIQ staff. This includes returning former hospital staff to areas of our hospitals where they had previously worked, if there are vacancies. A number have requested deployment to new areas to take up a new opportunity and have already been placed into roles," Sherborne said.
However, the nurse said they felt like they had been treated unfairly and had not been given the recognition they deserved for working on the frontline of Covid-19.
She said nurses working in the NRT had been treated very poorly by staff on the wards.
"They aren't being given swipe cards to get in and out of wards. Even if they needed to go to the toilet they are having to ask staff to swipe them in and out."
Despite being registered nurses they weren't being allowed to carry out typical nursing duties while part of the NRT, such as giving medication and being responsible for patients care, the nurse said.
Emails from Waikato DHB management showed registered nurses were being diverted to NRT as "taskers" or "care partners".
"We are just there as an extra person to help basically," she said.
Sherborne said they had asked some nursing staff to take up temporary roles within the NRT but as many had not worked in an acute environment before they were providing them with an option to work as a care partner.
"This allows nurses who are not used to an acute environment to be integrated. If they then feel comfortable, and are assessed as having the appropriate skill and experience, they would be supported to take on a full patient load."
The nurse said she put up her hand to go to an MIQ hotel when a lot of staff were afraid.
"There was a lot of social stigma involved. If people found out where you were, they didn't want to come and socialise with you.
"There were cases where children were being bullied at school because people found out where the parents worked."
She said that was on top of the health risks because in 2020 there were a lot of unknowns about Covid, and whether staff would catch it and die from it.
The nurse said they were all led to believe their jobs would be safe and there would be plenty of work within the Covid directorate that they could do.
"We were all on a secondment and then all of a sudden we were given permanent contracts, but again management said we would all be safe but that's not what's happened," she said.
A Northern Region Health Coordination Centre spokeswoman told the Herald: "We can confirm that nurses who were redeployed from a DHB in the metro-Auckland region to an MIQ facility are able to return to their original roles within that DHB at the completion of their secondment."
The Herald contacted the union group, New Zealand Nurses Organisation, but they were not able to comment within the deadline.