New Zealand's nursing workforce is not happy.
They're overworked, underpaid and feel under-appreciated after all the long hours put in keeping New Zealand safe over the last two years.
The healthcare sector's strain is being reflected in long waits for treatment, delayed surgeries and deaths which could have been prevented.
The Government of New South Wales recently unveiled a $4.5 billion plan to recruit 10,000 staff, and new Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has made no secret of his ambition to boost the healthcare sector.
In conversations with nursing sector representatives, Russell says she's heard growing concern about the impact this could have on local healthcare.
"What is sad is hearing from young nurses coming into the profession, all inspired and enthusiastic about helping New Zealand's sickest people, becoming more burnt-out the longer they stay," says Russell.
"The pandemic has definitely escalated that – and this move by New South Wales has put a lot of pressure on the Government to do something."
The latest data from the nursing union shows that New Zealand needs an additional 4,000 nurses across the country.
"New Zealand has had a problem retaining and recruiting nurses for decades, but the Covid pandemic and increased pay equities have escalated the problem to the point where we're now hearing of groups of nurses resigning all at once and many leaving the profession, " Russell says.
The Government has been at loggerheads with nurses for some time due to a pay equity agreement that fell over earlier this year.
"The nurses we have spoken to told us they were expecting up to $30,000 in back pay off the back of that agreement, but Health Minister Andrew Little said there just wasn't Budget for that – and so he's offered a lump sum of $3000 as recognition for their past work.
"The Union has sought legal advice and they've gone to the Employment Relations Authority. The DHB had 14 days to respond and that should be due back any day now. It's ultimately up to the Employment Relations Authority to make a decision on whether to side with the Government or the Union."
Whichever way it goes, those big Australian offers will still be available to nurses looking to escape the local market.
Speaking to Russell about potential exodus of nurses, Little warned that they should proceed with caution.
"I spoke to him about nurses leaving to Australia and he said nurses considering jumping ship and taking a job in Australia need to go with their eyes open," says Russell.
"He said working in Australia is not the same as here and they end up paying a national disability contribution, a bit like ACC, that they are allowed to claim from. He also said they have different rights because they're not Australian citizens."
Nurses who have gone to Australia offer a slightly different take on their decision to leave New Zealand.
"One nurse my colleague spoke to said his pay increased by 30 per cent when he moved to Australia earlier this year – and better pay was one of the reasons he went. We saw his payslips, which showed he was paid $39 an hour in New Zealand, compared to $47 in Australian dollars. And he said there were other bonuses he was entitled to."
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