"Too Little, too late Andrew" has been doing the rounds on social media describing Health Minister Andrew Little's attempts to attract nurses to New Zealand and to encourage our own to study and work in nursing.
I will get to the absurdity of using and paying local soap opera Shortland Street to promote nursing as a career shortly but first let's deal with what was missing: retaining our current workforce.
The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) has repeatedly stated that nurses feel unheard and undervalued and that many are furious and in tears.
On July 20, the NZNO said it received more than 2700 responses (in just two days) after inviting members to send a message to the Minister of Health about the nursing/health crisis. Ninety-nine per cent of responding members said the system was either in crisis (70 per cent) or already beyond crisis (29 per cent).
It is not all Labour's fault that we are where we are. There have been decades of inadequate recognition of our vital workforce across a multitude of governments, but the crisis is right here right now and it is this Government's job to fix it.
Of the 2700 NZNO respondents, 72 per cent said they are seriously thinking of leaving nursing or New Zealand, or that they had already made plans to do so.
Nothing in the Minister's announcement this week will stop that. He needed to announce this week that instead of paying millions of dollars in the cost of living payment to New Zealanders not even in New Zealand, he would instead be paying the nurses their back pay and extending pay equity rates.
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The nurses deserve to be heard and respected. There are daily horror stories in the health sector of delays and inadequate care for people in dire situations. The stories come from right across the country and vary in their extremes.
What they all have in common is speaking highly of the medical staff they encounter and being grateful for all that they try to do. They simply cannot cope and increasing numbers leaving nursing must be avoided at all costs.
In response to this week's announcements, one person responding to a Herald article stated, "What a slap in the face to our hardworking nurses, who have been screaming for a pay rise and for the back pay." For a Minister who comes from such a strong union background - and who was seen as the workers' champion - I am surprised that he isn't listening.
One of the Health Minister's solutions to the health crisis is to try and get more people to go into nursing and attract nurses from overseas. The assistance with registration and extra payments will be gratefully received. But why would trained nurses from overseas come to New Zealand to get paid less, have to work harder and longer hours and have a higher cost of living than Australia?
Unless, of course, they watch Shortland Street and among the normal angst and drama of a soap opera they get subliminal messages of how great nursing is. Storyline: My colleague's second wife who had an affair with my brother, and a love child with my boss, is secretly trying to poison me – but hey, I LOVE nursing!!!
If it wasn't a matter of life or death in real life, the Shortland Street solution would almost be funny. This week's health announcement joins the long list of Government failures in housing, welfare and law and order and unfortunately comes at a high cost to New Zealanders.
Paula Bennett is a former Deputy Prime Minister and National Party politician who now works at Bayleys Real Estate as national director-customer engagement.