Striking doctors have swapped their stethoscopes for irons and scrubbing brushes - spending the first day of the 48-hour strike lending a hand in the community.

A group of six doctors spent today volunteering at Rotorua Hospice, washing cars, ironing clothing in the op shop and helping cart around boxes of goods.

Another group of doctors helped out with the maintenance of mountain bike tracks around the city.

Resident medical officers are striking for 48 hours after a dispute over rosters.


The union says the hours are unsafe while district health boards, which are bargaining collectively, said their latest offer would give doctors some of the best conditions in the world.

The strike has seen most outpatient clinics at Rotorua Hospital postponed today and tomorrow. Another 52 elective procedures were postponed.

However, the hospital said contingency plans meant Rotorua and Taupo hospitals were running relatively smoothly during the first day of strike action.

Junior doctor Ashleigh Jensen said they were still serving the community - just in a different way.

Fellow doctor Shawn Gielen-Relph said the group of doctors hadn't thought it would come to taking strike action.

But Dr Gielen-Relph said something had to change over working hours and he said often doctors worked much longer than the hours they were rostered to work.

He said sometimes the hospital felt like a second home because of the amount of time spent there, and the long stretches and hours could become "relentless".

Dr Gielen-Relph said he was concerned that the working hours were putting off the "best and brightest" from what used to be seen as an attractive career.

Orthopaedic registrar Saskia Los said a 12-day working stretch would sometimes mean two long days from 8am to 11pm - sometimes staying longer if she was in surgery.

After spending today volunteering, the group planned to spend tomorrow resting and catching up on tasks they normally didn't have time for.

Lakes District Health Board said in a statement this afternoon both hospitals were running smoothly and there had been no problems reported by staff.

Beds were available in both hospitals, with occupancy across the two hospitals sitting at 80 per cent.

Contingency planner Kellie Lash said the emergency departments at Rotorua and Taupo reported being steady.

Patients coming into the hospitals had been informed the two-day strike could result in a longer wait and Ms Lash said so far people had taken the message on board.

She said the number of people presenting at ED had been much fewer than on a usual Tuesday.

Just under two thirds of the 75 junior doctors employed by Lakes DHB were expected to take strike action. Not all junior doctors are members of the union so not all are on strike.

Taupo Hospital does not employ junior doctors so is not greatly affected.

Advice to patients
• People unsure whether their appointments or procedures are affected can call 0800 223 647.
• Pregnant women whose specialist antenatal appointment has been changed should contact their lead maternity career immediately if they have concerns. If they can't contact them, they should ring the hospital and ask to speak to the birthing unit.
• Make sure they are up to date with prescriptions and make the GP or Lakes PrimeCare their first port of call.