'Exhausted' nurses give Govt, DHBs ultimatum as they begin rallies

Nurses and midwives have begun nationwide rallies as their fight for better pay and working conditions continues.

The Government has proposed an independent panel to break the deadlock between District Health Boards (DHBs) and the union, but nurses say a vote on strike action will go ahead.

"We're struggling," says Caroline Donaldson who took part in the protest at Middlemore Hospital on Tuesday.

"Us nurses, we're struggling, we're overworked, underpaid, getting tired, exhausted and burning out."

Nurses have never taken nationwide industrial action but they say their goodwill has worn thin, according to NZ Nurses Organisation spokesperson Cee Payne.

"Nurses are feeling like they're at the end of their tether, that they are stretched beyond their limit, that they really want this message to be heard."

Nurses rejected the DHBs' latest offer of a 2 percent pay increase, so the two sides are at an impasse. As a result, the Government proposed an independent panel to come up with a solution.

"I'll look forward to seeing whether some agreement can be reached as to a process to resolve their claims," says Minister for Health David Clark.

But the union says plans for a ballot on whether to strike will still go ahead.

"Many of our members are saying they want industrial action," says Ms Payne. "I think it's important we're in a position to respond to that call if required."

Health Minister David Clarksays the Government wants to respond to nurses' concerns, but there are many areas in the health system that also need more money.

"They have expectations, and obviously we won't be able to address all of the concerns and all of the underfunding in one budget," he explained.

The union will make a final call on Thursday about working with the independent panel.

It says the panel needs to come up with a solution within six weeks, and members must be able to vote on that solution. In the meantime, preparations for strike action continue.