“If we stay out of sight, we will stay out of mind.”
That’s what New Zealand Nurses Organisation Rotorua delegate Pamela Kirk, who works at Rotorua Hospital, said when she and 140 other Health NZ - Te Whatu Ora Lakes nurses walked off the job on Tuesday, most still in their scrubs.
The two-hour meeting was to discuss the collective agreement Te Whatu Ora offered to union members last month.
“We provide healthcare 24/7 so we can’t have nurses-only days or just shut the hospital for a day to make really visible and powerful protests,” Kirk told the Rotorua Daily Post.
“To leave for the meeting we must leave behind enough staff to ensure patients are safe so the numbers who can actually walk off the job are relatively small.”
Kirk said she was pleased by the turnout as it showed Te Whatu Ora that nurses were serious about taking necessary action to have their concerns addressed.
“We work mostly behind closed doors. So it’s a struggle to be heard. People just don’t realise how bad things are until they or a loved one are personally impacted.”
The meeting, held at the Rotorua Citizens Club, was one of 57 being held nationwide this week to give union members the opportunity to discuss and give their feedback on Te Whatu Ora’s latest offer for a collective agreement.
The offer included a $4000 increase to all base rates from April this year with a further increase of either $2000 or 3 per cent to all base rates on April 1, 2024.
The offer also agreed to provide $1000 per union member to meet approved professional development requirements.
Kirk said she did not think the offer on the table addressed the health and safety concerns of workers.
She said she would describe the current situation as a “nursing crisis” and she believed unsafe staffing was resulting in cancellations, delays in treatment and chronically fatigued health workers.
“[There’s a] dreaded, soul-clenching fear that grips you as you head to your shift wondering what you’ll face,” Kirk said.
“[There’s also a] soul-sucking wave of guilt when you read the barrage of texts pleading for staff and you just feel like you can’t do it. I can’t come in early. No, I can’t extend my shift or pick up another one.
“You know the dire need but you just can’t.”
New Zealand Nurses Organisation chief executive Paul Goulter previously said in a statement its members would much rather be at work focusing on their patients.
“We are at a time when Aotearoa desperately needs nurses and other health workers. Pay and conditions that recognise their value would make nursing more attractive and help keep the nurses we have.”
Te Whatu Ora was approached for comment about the Rotorua meeting.