Burnt-out nurses told to get help from each other as counselling services strained

Reports of exhausted, overworked nurses on the front line are nothing new.
Reports of exhausted, overworked nurses on the front line are nothing new. Photo credit: Getty Images

Nick Truebridge for RNZ

Burnt-out nurses are being told to seek help from one another because of high demand for external counselling services. 

Meanwhile, the nurses' union says the government has not told them about any plans to boost nursing numbers, despite constant reports of burnout.  

Reports of exhausted, overworked nurses on the front line are nothing new. But it now appears services that are supposed to be supporting staff are starting to flounder.

One nurse has told Checkpoint they and their colleagues have been told to turn to each other for support, as employee assistance programmes are now overloaded.

Kerri Nuku, Kaiwhakahaere of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, says it is a growing, worrying trend.

"The issue with that is their peers are equally in the same situation, so there doesn't seem to be an outlet to constructively be able to deal ... with and work through these problems," she said.

"It's a significant issue."

But Health Minister Andrew Little appeared none the wiser when Checkpoint asked about issues accessing EAP services.

"I haven't heard those reports," he said.

However, Little said he is aware of unrelenting staff shortages, and constant requests to fill them.

"Most DHBs are struggling to have enough nurses to cover the work that is there.

"And when EDs then get a spike in presentations that puts even more pressure on nurses, so I'm acutely aware of that.

"We're working with DHBs, and others, to make sure that we're doing everything we can to fill the gaps that there are in the nursing workforce," Little said.

But Kerri Nuku told Checkpoint she struggles to identify any specific examples or initiatives the government has put in place to boost nurse numbers.

If there was, she said, nurses would not be pulling out loudhailers and picket signs.

"We would not take any action around unsafe staffing if there were actually government initiatives that were immediately fixing the problem, so it is still a feature across all of the systems," she said.

"Nurses have talked about the crisis situation, talked about limited nurses and workforce issues. So they would be hard pushed to say that there are some immediate fixes, or initiatives, put in place by the government that have had direct and immediate impact."

Nurses are due to strike again later this month, but the discontent does not end with them.

Senior doctors and dentists who are members of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) today announced they will hold stop work meetings at every DHB next month, to discuss their stalled employment contract negotiations.

ASMS executive director Sarah Dalton said they are seeking a modest pay rise to reflect cost of living increases and inflation, but DHBs continue to come back with a zero percent increase.

"Public servants and particularly health public servants - doctors, nurses, their colleagues in allied health - are the ones that have had to step up throughout Covid-19, and still have to step up now in providing health services when we've got massive levels of acute need and significant staffing shortages," Dalton said.

"We think a cost of living adjustment for senior doctors is the right thing to do and would absolutely be a reasonable thing to do."

Anaesthetic Technicians, employed at Bowen and Wakefield Hospitals in Wellington and Royston Hospital in Hawke's Bay, have today given notice for a 24-hour strike, beginning the morning of 27 September.

They have been in bargaining since May, seeking a 5 percent pay rise per year. 

But talks have broken down, with Evolution Healthcare offering a 2 percent pay increase each year, for two years.


Following the broadcast of this report, the organisation Raise got in touch with Checkpoint.

The group provides support to a number of DHBs across the North Island. Spokesperson Jordan Smith says he was gutted to hear that nurses have been told that there is no capacity to support. 

He said they are here to help, and would encourage anyone needing support to get in touch at 0800 735 343 or at their website.