DHBs ready for doctors' strike, but some patients will miss out

DHBs ready for doctors' strike, but some patients will miss out

The Whanganui District Health Board concedes a 48-hour strike by junior doctors will mean some procedures will be canned, but says the system is prepared for the extra pressure.

Thousands of junior doctors voted on Monday to stop work from 7am on October 18 after mediation talks failed to reach an agreement. The strike will affect all district health boards (DHBs).

The New Zealand Resident Doctors Association (NZRDA) says their members are overworked. A recent NZRDA survey of 3600 members found 275 had fallen asleep while driving home from shifts as long as 16 hours, 12 days in a row.

Whanganui DHB chief executive Julie Patterson says they offered a 10-day maximum work week, which was rejected.

"The issue between us is the 12 days. We're happy to move on those 12 days, but we're not happy to give them days off during that 12 days and pay for them," she told Paul Henry on Tuesday.

She says they're essentially asking for a pay rise, but that would be on top of $60 million over three years that's already been offered.

Ms Patterson says of the 140 rosters across the country which were in dispute, 80 of them have already been changed.

"The other thing we have to balance here is this is a workforce still in training, so it's a balance between the hours they work and maintaining the health and safety, but it's also about making sure they get the world-class training that they get in the New Zealand DHBs."

She says the long hours have been "much the same" for the past two decades.

"But that's not to say we don't want to change them, because if they are concerning the union now then of course we need to move to change them."

Talk in the media over the past few weeks has given DHBs enough notice put in contingency plans to cover the strike. But Ms Patterson says it will still have a flow-on effect for some patients.

"Sadly, there will be patient cancellations in terms of elective services and outpatient appointments, but we're very confident we can keep the hospitals running for those people who need the acute care at the time."

The doctors have the backing of the Green Party, which says hospitals shouldn't have to rely on overworked staff just to keep running.

Workplace relations spokesperson Denise Roche says the Government and DHBs need to listen "when medical professionals are telling us they're reaching breaking point".

Labour's associate health spokesperson David Clark says the strike is the symptom of National underfunding the system.

"District Health Boards simply do not have the money to ensure safe staffing for our health workforce. They are overstretched, overworked and fatigued from this Government's $1.7 billion cut over the past six years.

"Our hard working health professionals have been covering National's cuts by working longer hours with insufficient support, putting patients and themselves at risk."

NZRDA national secretary Dr Deborah Powell says the union has "no choice" following 10 months of talks.

She told Paul Henry in August it would take another 140 doctors to fix the problem.

Ironically, she says it wouldn't cost much more to just hire additional doctors because DHBs wouldn't have to pay the existing crew as much, since they'll be doing fewer hours.

In contrast to what Ms Patterson noted about rosters, Dr Powell said 13 of 150 nationwide rosters currently meet the union's requirements.