Wellington Hospital nurses call for halt on elective surgeries due to staff shortages

Nurses at Wellington Hospital are calling for planned care, including cancer surgeries, to be put on hold because they're so short-staffed.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) delegate Sarah Ward, a registered nurse working in the six south and cardiology ward, said nurses are feeling burnt-out, fatigued, and are experiencing high levels of sickness and COVID-related special leave, which has also taken its toll.

"With extremely high vacancy rates across the inpatient areas and a lack of nursing applicants, we cannot continue to provide safe care."

Staff said they are experiencing critical and unprecedented staffing shortages across multiple wards: fourth north gynaecology; medical assessment, planning units, five, six and seven south; and five, six and seven north.

The Nurses Organisation is issuing the hospital with a provisional improvement notice.

A provisional improvement notice, or PIN, is a step employees can take through their union.

The NZNO said it legally requires Wellington Hospital to address the health and safety issue within eight days.

NZNO members and organisers have met with the charge nurse managers who escalated the safety concerns to the hospital management team. Staff at the eight wards were also polled to gauge support for the PIN, with 100 percent of those completing the poll (n=256) supporting it.

In issuing the PIN, staff want elective surgeries to be put on hold, including cancer surgery, for two weeks to give staff some breathing space. The PIN does not include acute surgery, paediatric and neonatal areas, and day surgery cases.

Staff also want no new admissions when wards are in critical ‘Red VIS status’ unless extra staffing and resources are provided to meet the extra need.

Lastly, they want operations managers more visible on the ward floor to support public awareness about critically unsafe staffing days and to assist with triage and discharging patients.

Director of provider services at Wellington Hospital, Joy Farley, said management met with staff earlier this month.

"These challenges are well-reported and we have been working to analyse and better understand contributing factors, such as surges through ED.

"These challenges have resulted in the deferment of planned care across Hutt Valley and Capital & Coast DHBs, and affected patients advised accordingly.

"At present, the only planned care that proceeds as scheduled is care that is not clinically safe to defer. Similarly, very urgent care, for example, cardiac care, surgery, and acute and cancer-related procedures go ahead because it would not be clinically safe for them to be deferred.

"We are committed to working with staff for long-term solutions during these unprecedented times."

It is planning to hold a workshop to discuss options, including those outlined in the PIN.