Opinion: Nurses are stretched to capacity - we deserve more than a 2 percent pay rise

Yesterday, the 27,000-strong DHB nurse, midwife and health care workforce rejected, once again, the DHB's offer of a 2 percent pay increase this year and next.

I stood tall at the New Zealand Nurses Organisation press conference in Wellington to be part of that announcement - we are simply worth more, deserve more and need more.

We know that the public health service is creaking with the strain of high demand, the complexities of an ageing population and a climate of funding neglect. But we are a workforce that needs looking after, so that we can look after others.

A decade of severe underfunding of our public hospitals has taken its toll on everyone, and nurses bear the brunt of this in their everyday lives.

We are picking up extra shifts and staying later than we should - missing meal breaks, toilet breaks and going home broken - only to put ourselves back together and do it all over again the next day.

We are stretched to our absolute capacity and beyond. This is not sustainable and not fair.

All of this can't be fixed immediately with a money tree, but we think a better offer can be achieved. We have waited for a long time for a pay boost, as have others, but we cannot wait any longer - we need it now.

Nurses are beyond stressed and this takes its toll on our health, on our families and our personal relationships.

It takes its toll in our working relationships too, and as a result those in our care also start to feel this pressure - this is just not acceptable to us.

I used to say to my friends, "How about a nursing degree? Nursing is fantastic." I am not saying that any more. It is not fantastic at the moment.

Nursing can be a rewarding career - but not when you are burnt out, expected to do more with less and the prospect of being adequately paid to keep up with the cost of living is nowhere in sight.

I wake up in the middle of the night worried that perhaps those in my charge won't actually get the medical attention and support they need. I ask myself, 'How is this the new norm? Is this acceptable?' The answer is no, it's not.

It is time for the Government to pull its socks up and face this head on.

We need to attract and retain a great nursing workforce, and the meagre crumbs of percentage increases that barely meet inflation just aren't good enough any more.

No nurse would look forward to a strike, and many will be stressed with the notion of leaving hospitals understaffed and in a crisis situation. We will have a week of action and we really are planning to garner public support for a pay rise.

Too long have we kept the faith, waiting to be recognised and for our pleas to be heard. Too long have we listened to the promises of a better tomorrow only for that day to never come.

We need action now. Not in a few years or 10 years. Now.

Freya Head is a registered nurse