Labor shortage is top priority – chairman of Health NZ

The healthcare system is under strain, and the new entity tasked with fixing it says labor shortages are at the top of the list.

By Rosie Gordon

But a month into his new existence – Health NZ – Te Whatu Ora has no targets for how many new health staff he wants to hire.

The board met today behind closed doors.

READ MORE: High hopes ahead of New Zealand’s biggest health upheaval in 20 years

Subsequently, President Rob Campbell agreed that getting staff to fill in the gaps was the first hurdle.

“Labour, labor, labor really is the answer,” he said.

Elective surgeries are being delayed, there are staffing shortages and available critical care beds are hard to come by.

Staff at Wellington Hospital told RNZ it was essential to keep up with demand.

“They’re so overworked and understaffed right now that it’s not funny. [It’s] very stressful,” said a nurse.

“The latest that’s going around the job are poached nurses going to Australia,” said another hospital worker.

Campbell said he appreciated what the staff were going through.

“We are very aware of the impact on staff and patients and their share of these issues and the efforts of those working to maintain services,” he said.

Campbell said they planned to help the green light, with an announcement expected next week.

“We have noted and approved some initiatives to address these issues, which will be implemented and announcements will be made about them next week as they are rolled out,” he said.

Campbell did not provide further details on what the initiatives might entail and admitted that Health NZ – Te Whatu Ora does not yet have a target for the number of nurses and doctors to bring into the system.

“Honestly, it would be a waste of time discussing numbers of hundreds of nurses or thousands of nurses in various roles. The numbers are important, they are very pressing and we just have to get to work and hit it” ,

“As we get closer to what could be a target, we can talk about targets. Frankly, a target, right now, wouldn’t help us,” he said.

Asked if pay rises were planned for doctors and nurses, Te Whatu Ora CEO Margie Apa said she was sticking to the current arrangements.

“We currently have MECA arrangements in place. And we also have a national process to assess where we need to pay extra fees where we have difficulty finding our full rosters,” Apa said.

The minister trusts

Health Minister Andrew Little, who was attending the opening of a new private hospital in Hastings today, was asked if he trusted the Te Whatu Ora board to turn the health crisis around.

“Well, it’s their job to do that. Not all problems can be solved immediately. It will be a combination of short-term and long-term solutions,” he said.

“When I met with them on July 1, during their inception, I clearly stated their top priorities and one of them was labor,” Little said.

Michael A. Bynum