DHB short-staffing and underfunding at a tipping point - union

Staff are facing really high levels of fatigue and burnout across the medical and dental workforce.
Staff are facing really high levels of fatigue and burnout across the medical and dental workforce. Photo credit: Getty

A union for doctors and dentists is warning all DHBs are at a tipping point, caused by entrenched short staffing and underfunding.

It comes as the Capital and Coast DHB is reporting they are at capacity, and now facing having to delay surgeries.

Executive director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists Sarah Dalton said all DHBs across the country were facing different pinch points.

"It's critical," she said. "The extent of unmet need in New Zealand is massive, and we're also facing really high levels of fatigue and burnout across our medical and dental workforce.

"We really need to look after the people we do have who are here working their guts out, while we develop a really solid recruitment and retention plan through a workforce census."

The problem goes back further than COVID-19, and its associated impacts, but she said that that hadn't helped.

Border closures were making it harder to get health professionals from overseas into the country and working, while the cancelled surgeries as a result of last year's lockdowns were still being worked through.

Meanwhile, there is no national overview of just who is working where, and where possible staffing shortages might occur in the future.

"We think [it's] a failure of centralised workforce planning," Dalton said.

"We don't actually have a really good pipeline, we don't know exactly who we have, where they are, when they're going to go, when we need more people, or where.

"It's a long-term prospect to fix, so that's why we want a census, we want planning, we want it to be nationally visible."

Problems at Wellington Hospital

Meanwhile, Wellington Hospital is short about 30 beds and urgently needs more operating theatres.

That's the message from the Capital and Coast District Health Board's director of planning and performance, Rachel Haggerty.

She said the board has largely caught up on the backlog caused by last year's lockdown but further problems loom with a shortage of beds and operating theatres.

Haggerty said Capital and Coast has already spent $6 million more than was budgeted on outsourcing operations to private hospitals.