More than 400 nurses rallied outside Auckland Hospital this afternoon to call for better pay and working conditions for nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants.
The protest was part of two weeks of action as the New Zealand Nurses Organisation continues discussions over whether to strike, after members rejected a 2 per cent pay raise offer from DHBs last month.
Auckland Hospital nurse Gui Restall, 56, said she was protesting because "the abuse of the goodwill of nurses has been going on way too long".
Nurses had been overworked for years but as a caring profession they were reluctant to speak out, she said.
"We're grossly understaffed and underpaid for our skills and our education levels."
Shortstaffing was a huge issue for patient safety, she added. "Often if someone calls in sick there's no replacement. It's patient care - people don't get the quality of care they deserve.
"They might get discharged without all the information they need, or without the opportunity to ask questions about their condition or how to look after themselves when they go home.
"And there's a lot of unpaid overtime - if five minutes before the end of your shift there's a cardiac arrest or a patient has a bleed or explosive diarrhoea, you don't leave your colleagues to clean up - we're a team.
"But it means you won't get to write notes sometimes, even though there's a legal obligation to document the care you've given."
She was "absolutely" ready to strike, Restall said, and the number of toots from the public showed people were getting the message.
Up to 500 nurses joined the protest over the afternoon in between their shifts at the hospital, organiser Carol Beaumont said.
Beaumont said the public seemed to be aware of the issues nurses and other healthcare professionals faced.
"I think a lot of people expect health to be the main beneficiary of this year's budget."
Another protest was planned outside North Shore Hospital on Friday, she said.
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• Kate Hawkesby: Nurses deserve far more than a pathetic 2% pay rise
Nurses also rallied today outside Tauranga and Whakatane Hospitals, and similar protests have been seen in Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Masterton over the past fortnight as part of their "Health Needs Nursing" campaign.
Yesterday the Public Service Association also announced thousands of administrative and clerical staff had raised a pay equity claim with district health boards.
Senior doctors have backed their claims, saying they are reliant on admin staff for hospitals to run smoothly.
NURSING ACTION: WHAT'S NEXT?
Last week an independent panel was set up consisting of one representative each from the DHBs and the union and one government appointee.
Former Whanganui District Health Board chief executive Julie Patterson, former director of the Reserve Bank Professor Margaret Wilson and former NZNO chief executive Geoff Annals are on the panel.
The trio were to meet this week, and over the next four weeks would receive submissions from each party in an attempt to resolve the impasse between nurses and their employers.
The panel will make its final recommendations in mid-May. The DHBs will then make an updated offer to the NZNO.
The final recommendations from the panel will be provided to each party and the Government by mid-May.