Kiwi nurse exposes hospital conditions that prompted her move to Australia

A Kiwi nurse is lifting the lid on the working conditions that prompted her move to Australia. 

The nurse, who asked to speak to Newshub anonymously, worked in a large Auckland hospital for four years - three of which were inside the emergency department. 

They say the eight-hour-long strike on June 9 is not just about salaries but doubts nurses' requests will be met. 

"We are after a safer, resourced workplace. Slightly more pay would be nice but patient ratios, more staff, and more funding to the hospitals would be far more beneficial," they tell Newshub. 

"We want to be recognised for all we do, and unfortunately a pen on international nurses’ day doesn’t cut it."

'Under-resourced, understaffed'

Over their four years at the Auckland hospital, the Kiwi nurse dealt with an "under-resourced, understaffed department", and sometimes experienced unsafe situations. 

"Over my time working at the hospital I can’t count the number of verbal and physical assaults that have happened to health care workers," they say.

"I’ve seen co-workers punched in the face, oxygen cylinders thrown through medication rooms, people pulling out knives, family members getting up in our faces."

The nurse told Newshub of a particular incident when two nurses were attacked with a baseball bat when leaving the hospital after a night shift. 

"One ended up with a head injury and the other a broken clavicle. It can sometimes be scary to think about," they say.

The Auckland hospital where the Kiwi nurse worked confirmed the incident to Newshub, stating that emergency departments are "emotionally charged, stressful environments". 

"Nurses can sometimes be subjected to verbal abuse, they can experience people encroaching on their personal space, and occasionally experience low-levels of physical abuse," the hospital said in a statement.

The hospital said after the attack on the nurses, extra security measures were "quickly implemented", and have remained in place for the last three years. 

"We view any form of physical assault as unacceptable and there is a constant security presence at our ED," the hospital told Newshub.

The nurse says working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic got slightly better, due to Aucklanders "treating the emergency department as the emergency department". 

"No one was there for minor things that they should be seeing their GP for, like sore toes or infected fingers," they say.

"The people coming to the emergency department were critically ill and needed help."

But the Kiwi nurse explained as people across the country became more and more relaxed about the threat of COVID-19 in New Zealand, so did their hospital. 

"We initially had a designated respiratory assessment unit so anyone with respiratory symptoms went into an isolation area to contain the potential spread," they say.

“However, as time went on this was discontinued due to becoming 'unnecessary'. The public also became more relaxed regarding precautions. Our numbers bumped back up and we were back to a messy, chaotic, under-resourced, understaffed department - for both doctors and nurses."

'We never really got thanked'

Even though Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Dr Ashley Bloomfield continued to thank frontline workers at their infamous 1pm press conferences, the Kiwi nurse didn't believe these words were translated into action. 

"Despite working through all three lockdowns, we never really got thanked," they say. 

"I know of people who moved out of home as their families were classed as immunocompromised, or elderly and frail. We all began showering at work, leaving our shoes and equipment behind to try to avoid taking anything home to our families and loved ones."

The Kiwi nurse says there was "no recognition" of the effort of any staff member working at hospitals in New Zealand during the depths of COVID-19. 

"It was just an expectation that we all had placed upon us," they say. 

They believe the Government doesn't really understand what nurses or doctors deal with every day.

"I think they believe we are doing okay, not magnificently, but that we have enough resources to deal with what comes through the front door which is honestly a pure understatement," they say.

"We don’t just give medications, wash people and take vital signs. Nurses are critical thinkers; we are autonomous and can think on our feet.

"The number of times I’ve suggested we try a certain medication or procedure or corrected a dose charted by a doctor because it's incorrect or not appropriate is uncountable. We are not just doctors’ servants in which we are often made out to be. I think this does hinder the younger generation from becoming nurses." 

The nurse told Newshub that in the weeks leading up to their departure from the hospital, one of the intravenous giving sets - which is used to administer medicine to a patient - was recalled due to sterilisation issues. 

"Our hospital was so short on these it wasn’t funny," they say. 

"We were having to use sets for multiple administrations, and having to come up with ways to administer medications that would still be safe for the patient. Over my time we ran out of many essential things from medication."

Triple the pay for a quarter of the work

The nurse says there were many "contributing factors" to their decision to move across the ditch - the main reasons being remunerated accordingly, and working conditions.

"I am earning triple here than what I was at home for a quarter of the work," they say.

In the Australian state the Kiwi nurse has moved to, there are ratios set for how many patients a nurse can care for at one time. Where the nurse is working currently, they can only care for a maximum of four patients during a day or afternoon shift. On a night shift, this number rises to seven. 

"In New Zealand, these are not set, with one nurse often having to care for five or six patients in morning and afternoon," they say.

A nurse working on a night shift in New Zealand can often be caring for 10 or 11 patients. 

"Safer staffing is such a huge issue, which really requires the attention of the New Zealand Government. It is putting our medical professions and our patients at risk," they say. 

"They truly do deserve the best care but with an unsafe workload we are unable to provide all that we can."

The Kiwi nurse says they just could not hack another winter season, especially after their hospital started "ramping". 

This is when patients sit in an ambulance until a bed in the emergency department becomes free. 

"We were still short staffed, patients were still lying on beds in corridors some of which required cardiac monitoring that we did not have available, elderly patients sat for hours in the waiting room," they told Newshub. 

The hospital confirmed to Newshub both ramping and nurses caring for multiple patients at once does happen, but is a "very, very rare occurrence and would only take place at times of very high user demand."

The Kiwi nurse says moving across the ditch was "one of the toughest decisions” she’s ever had to make.

"I also feel it will be one of the best decisions," they say. 

The nurse says the staff they worked with, both nurses and doctors, are "incredible".

"We witness things nobody should ever have to see on a daily basis and it truly does form a special bond," they say. 

The eight-hour strike will occur on June 9 from 11am to 7pm and will include nurses involved in the vaccination effort - but not those in managed isolation and quarantine.

It comes after the Government offered them less than one-tenth of the pay increase they had asked for