The Government is hoping to fast-track 130 extra nurses in Christchurch in the coming months who would otherwise start their nursing studies next year.
“All of these students are currently on a waiting list and would otherwise have been deferred to 2024,” Health Minister Ayesha Verrall announced today.
Verrall also said there would be an additional 700 clinical placements nationwide next year, a response to the New Zealand Nurses Organisation’s Maranga Mai campaign for more nurses to be trained. Clinical placements are a requirement of the Nursing Council as part of their practical education.
“In the past nursing schools were turning away students because they couldn’t find an appropriate placement for them in the health system.”
It comes as frontline medical professionals have laid bare the staffing shortages that are putting emergency departments under unprecedented strain.
Overcrowded emergency departments are an indicator of stress in the wider health system, experts say, reflecting not just the treatment available for the acutely unwell but issues in primary care and hospital services upstream.
Around the country, staff say they’re confronted daily with overflowing EDs but don’t have the resources to cope.
Nurses say their staffing shortages are acute.
“We have an incredibly junior workforce dealing with a high workload and high stress,” a senior nurse in the department told the Weekend Herald.
Data from Auckland City Hospital’s health and safety monitoring system shows that staff have repeatedly escalated concerns about understaffing to their senior managers in the past few years.
According to figures obtained under the Official Information Act, there were 169 unsafe staffing reports filed in 2019-20; 361 in 2020-21; and 292 in the last financial year. These figures understate the reality, staff say, because they are often too busy to fill out the paperwork necessary to submit a report, or don’t bother doing so because they don’t think it will make a difference.
Faced with unmanageable workloads, nurses at North Shore Hospital were struggling to carry out routine tasks, a health and safety representative said. The stress was impacting their personal lives. Some struggled to sleep before shifts. Others were so burnt out they had taken time off work.
“This is the perfect climate for a sentinel event,” said a provisional improvement notice, filed on behalf of nursing staff at North Shore Hospital, in October 2022.
Verrall couldn’t say how many student nurses wanted to be placed this year but were unable to be accommodated. She said the figure for next year - 700 extra clinical placements - came from Te Whatu Ora’s estimate of increased capacity.
Asked how many more nurses were needed to have the workforce at a satisfactory level, Verrall said the Government will be releasing data this coming week about the gaps in the health workforce.
“I absolutely agree that there are shortages in our health care system in terms of a range of groups of clinicians, and that is a priority for the Government to address that.
“That’s why I recently announced funding for 50 new medical school places, why we are making this announcement in terms of growing nursing training, why we have put so much into nursing salaries so that they improve retention in the workforce as well - not to mention a number of initiatives for other clinical groups too.”
Asked about paying nurses while they were being trained, she said the Government was looking at a range of options to support nurses “throughout their career”.
“Since the end of 2021 we have recruited 1000 more nurses and increased pay for most nurses by 14 percent. We are starting to see results. More than 8000 nurses registered for the first time in the 2022/23 registration year, a 60 percent increase from the around 5000 nurses who registered for the first time in the previous year.”