Nurses, midwives, healthcare workers and their supporters picketed along Heads Rd near Whanganui Hospital yesterday and their message was clear: make our work safer.

The strike officially began at 7am yesterday morning and went until the same time today.

Picketing went from 7am until 5pm.

Whanganui's healthcare professionals walked off the job along with thousands of their colleagues from around the country after their union, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO), voted to reject the latest pay offer.

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At the picket line in Whanganui people held up signs supporting striking staff and asked drivers coming through the busy roundabout to toot in support.

"If you do a toot-ometer I'd say yes we do have [good community support]," said NZNO delegate Maura Skilton.

She said the decision to strike was not taken lightly.

"Nurses want to be helpful and we tend to just get on with the job and are quiet about it.

"But the depth of feeling is so strong ... the collective voice must be heard now."

The lead organiser of the picket line and another NZNO delegate, Carmel Scott, could be seen on crutches marshalling the vocal group.

"The turnout's been great," she said.

"We've had a constant flow of support since 7am this morning and it's just increased since then."

Scott, like many of the picketers, made it clear this wasn't about money. One nurse there said the increase being offered would mean two more nurses for the Whanganui workforce.

Scott said that wouldn't make much difference for nurses already managing, at times, more than 10 patients per shift.

"We want obviously safer staffing levels. It primarily comes down to our patients, we want our patients to be safe and we want to have the ability to give the best care that we've been trained to give.

"We're trained as the caring community, that's what we're known for. That's slowly being taken away with having to look after 10 patients on a ward. You can't give everybody that gold standard of care that you want to, and you take that home with you."

Scott said the profession had lost its way because of the pressure nurses were always under.

"At the moment a lot of people feel like they're overworked. We're more like a number than a nurse I guess you could say because we feel like we've got to meet so many deadlines ... you lose your nursing side of things, that care. And that's what people don't want to lose."

Nurses marched and picketed from the Heads Rd roundabout to the hospital.
Nurses marched and picketed from the Heads Rd roundabout to the hospital.
Striking nurses say increasing their workforce will make conditions safer for them.
Striking nurses say increasing their workforce will make conditions safer for them.

Skilton added the pay increase was to cover how difficult the job had become and so people made a decent living out of being a nurse.

"The DHBs' offer hasn't been sufficient to satisfy what the nurses believe they need and deserve, which is sufficient nurses to work safely and sufficient remuneration to make up for the stress they go through.

"And sufficient money to be able to pay the bills and the mortgage and kids' school fees, all those sorts of things."

The Whanganui District Health Board went into contingency planning yesterday to manage patient demand with a number of nurses off the job.

All elective surgeries initially planned for yesterday and today were put on hold.

According to Capital and Coast chief medical officer John Tait, speaking on behalf of health boards around the country, between 6000 and 8000 elective procedures were delayed.