The number of patients being treated at hospitals across the country dropped to about 85 per cent today as the 20 DHBs cope without their junior doctors.

About 3000 district health board doctors who are members of the Resident Doctors Association started striking at 7am on Tuesday morning until 7am on Thursday.

National contingency planner for the DHBs Anne Aitcheson said the advance planning had worked well and people had also listened to requests to avoid emergency departments unless it was a genuine emergency so there were fewer people going through the doors.

"Overall there's been no major problems and things have really gone well."


As part of the plan more senior doctors were included on the roster for all specialities for past two weeks.

Aitcheson said most DHBs would have their beds full in the mornings so the reduction to 85 per cent reflected that hospitals were doing acute and urgent work only.

The occupancy rate started higher at some hospitals at the start of the strike than had been anticipated, but it dropped as patients were discharged throughout the day.

The doctors are striking over being rostered on for 12 consecutive days which they say is too long and want it reduced to 10, as well as a drop in night shifts from seven to four.

Aitcheson said the DHBs would continue to follow the plan because it was working well so far.

Labour health spokeswoman Annette King said the DHBs were understaffed due to a lack of funding and said both doctors and patients were being put at risk.

"These doctors are on strike because they are falling asleep at the wheel when they are driving home and they are concerned at their safety and their patient's safety around the hours they are being forced to work."