Nurses and other health workers at Auckland Metro district health boards (DHBs) say they are concerned that the picture of a robust health system painted by Wellington health officials is a far cry from the reality they face each day on the frontline.
"The country is being told over and over that the health system is fine and that we’re well-placed to handle a COVID surge," said NZNO organiser Sarah Barker.
"That might be what DHB executives are reporting, but Auckland nurses say they’re already dealing with caseloads they can’t handle. They’re stretched to the maximum and people are falling through the cracks right now.
"Because of lockdown and the Auckland outbreak, people aren’t coming to the emergency department until they are gravely ill. There are also huge spikes in people with mental health and social issues and people whose conditions are significantly worse because COVID has delayed their much-needed surgeries.
"There just aren’t enough nurses to deal with these complex needs, and nurses say their colleagues are departing at a rate of knots," she said.
Barker said nurses are still expected to provide adequate and expert care when working conditions are both intolerable and unsustainable.
"We don’t expect people to work in hazardous workplaces, but nurses are continually being asked to do just that, and virtually nothing is being done to manage the situation by the people with the power to do so.
"Nurses are ignored or side-lined when they raise the alarm. Agreed escalation processes that would reprioritise less urgent care are not being used to reduce pressure on our health system, and staffing shortages are not being proactively addressed," said Barker.
"Some of the things nurses suggest could be done include active recruitment campaigns; free nursing education; and making it cheaper and easier for people to visit their general practitioner.
"Nurses don’t want to be just the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, but right now that’s about all they have the capacity to do.
"I am really concerned that the Government is telling the people we can handle a COVID surge when the reality is we have 1000 health care worker vacancies across the Auckland region. This isn’t getting any better, and we’re actually in pretty deep trouble," she concluded.