'We've had enough': Doctors' union threatens DHBs with legal action over rosters

The union representing resident doctors is threatening legal action against DHBs who still haven't implemented safer rosters.

Junior doctors negotiated new working hours last year, helping to ease the strain on 1000 doctors across the country.

But the union representing them says Auckland DHBs are dragging their heels and doctors there are missing out.

A national conference being held in Auckland this week is trying to help ease the pressure on resident doctors.

New Zealand Resident Doctors' Association (NZRDA) Vice President and ED registrar, Dr Kat Foster, says safer rosters are working, but stresses and strains continue.

"There's still a huge amount of work to be done," she explains.

"We still have high rates of doctor burnout, a lot of exhaustion and fatigue amongst our members, and there's still significant rates of mental health illness and distress."

A series of strikes around the country resulted in a new agreement on working hours.

But 18 months later, while most DHBs have implemented the new rosters, DHBs across Auckland are being accused of failing to act.

"The Auckland region has not got onto this in a timely fashion, and most of the ones still to be implemented are in the Auckland region," says NZRDA National Secretary Deborah Powell.

The NZRDA is now considering legal action.

"We're putting our feet down, we've had enough - these rosters have to come in," says Dr Powell.

In a joint statement, the three Auckland DHBs say they are meeting their obligations, having already implemented 29 rosters. And they're working on recruiting the extra doctors needed for them to bring in the remaining 18 rosters.

But not all resident doctors are covered by the new agreement.

At Dunedin Hospital, paediatric registrar James Anderson still regularly works 72 hours a week.

"They took the most pressing rosters, working the most stressful hours, with the highest loads, and tried to bring those rosters in first," Dr Anderson says.

"It was a selective process and mine hasn't been targeted yet, but hopefully in the future."

And he hopes the health and wellbeing of doctors can be prioritised so they can, in turn, do their best for the health and wellbeing of their patients.