Sometimes Janet France-Goss works an eight hour shift without a toilet break, other times she makes a coffee to get through the shift, is called away and it goes cold.

France-Goss was one of thousand of nurses around the country who walked off the job today to strike and rally for better pay and conditions.

She was one of about 100 people standing at the Rotorua picket line in Kuirau Park where the sound of passing cars tooting in support was deafening.

Janet France-Goss, right, and Cath Mott at the rally today. Photo/Ben Fraser
Janet France-Goss, right, and Cath Mott at the rally today. Photo/Ben Fraser

Nurses and their families and friends were at the picket line, waving placards and flags and playing music between 10am and 12pm then 2pm and 4pm.

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The 24-hour strike action followed failed negotiations over the nurses' pay dispute.

France-Goss had been a nurse for 11 years and said she was pleased to hear the support from the passing public.

"I think people realise eventually they or their family members are going to need a nurse and they want to know one will be on the floor."

France-Goss didn't have to think hard to recall a time when she had been short staffed.

"This week there have been two instances they've not replaced sick staff. There have only been two staff on the ward and they've continued taking patients," she said.

"It's really stressful. You think have you missed someone or is there something you should have been doing. You're thinking have I done enough?"

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For the nurse, the stress once got so bad her hair started falling out.

"Other people have panic attacks and some people reduce their hours to manage ... But it's constantly on your mind, what's your next shift going to be like?"

France-Goss hoped the strike would inspire the Government to consider the pay dispute seriously.

"It's not about the money, it's about the staff. They need to seriously look at the shortage on the wards. If they want 20 beds, they need the staff to manage that."

Her story is similar to many around the country.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) organiser Selina Robinson hoped the strike would result in the Government taking the nurses seriously.

"We want to see our nurses valued the way they value their patients.

"It takes a lot for nurses to come out and say 'we've had enough, we've been stretched too far'."

She said nurses had been sharing their stories.

"We've got people here who tell me they call in sick and they have to go to work because they are the least sick," Robinson said.

"People are doing double shifts, extended shifts, they are really tired and exhausted they want to do the best they can but are burned out.

"The workload's too high and there's no help coming soon."

The nurses shared a morning tea while on strike which, Robinson, said could have been the first morning break some had had in a long time.

Tracey Sebire, who has been a nurse for 30 years, said she was picketing to make a change.

"We're doing it for the public. I'm not saying it's not for the nurses as well, but it goes hand in hand."

In a written statement, Lakes District Health Board (DHB) said the strike had got off to a "reasonably smooth" start and Rotorua and Taupō hospitals had been running "reasonably well".

The statement said many staff with a clinical background who held non-clinical roles were back on the wards today, along with volunteers.

Lakes DHB has a full roster of Life Preserving Services responders but there is little capacity to deal with unexpected activity.

Only members of the NZNO who are on the roster as Life Preserving Services responders are on the site, along with union members who have chosen to come to work.

Lakes DHB incident controller for emergency management Gary Lees said actions that had been planned for over the past few months were now in place.

He warned that services may take a little longer, but care would still be provided, and patient safety was a priority.

The hospitals are operating as they would at the weekend or on a public holiday, and the doors to the inpatient areas will only be opened in line with visiting hours, 11am to 1.30pm and then 4pm to 8pm.

Family members acting as official support members for their loved one in hospital have access, as do visitors to maternity and children in hospital, but there is a procedure in place to enable access where it is needed.

Lees said these security measures were part of ensuring the hospital ran as smoothly as possible, protecting the health and safety of both patients and those staff working today.

He said patient numbers and the level of sickness among patients remained high, as was typical for this time of year. Limited beds are available in the hospital.

Dialysis patients are receiving treatment today at Rotorua. Chemotherapy patients have been moved to other days of the week unless it is essential for treatments to occur today.

Nurses striking in Rotorua.

Posted by Rotorua Daily Post on Wednesday, 11 July 2018

All elective surgery and outpatient clinics have been postponed. The only clinics operating will be for urgent antenatal presentations and urgent fracture patients.

Emergency Departments at Rotorua and Taupō hospitals are open for emergencies.

People with minor health issues are asked to visit their family doctor or community emergency clinics. Alternatively, they can contact Healthline on 0800 611 116.