Health NZ chair Rob Campbell admits using 'sticking plaster' solutions to cope with shortage of workers

The chair of Health New Zealand admits they are using "sticking plaster" solutions to cope with an overworked health sector.

It comes after Health Minister Andrew Little refused to say the system is in a crisis despite emergency department wait times increasing and the sector being under significant strain from spiking COVID-19 infections, the return of the flu, and labour shortages.

At the beginning of the month, the biggest transformation in New Zealand's public health system took place when 20 district health boards were dissolved and replaced by one centralised entity, Health New Zealand. Working alongside it will be the Māori Health Authority.

Chair of Health New Zealand Rob Campbell told AM on Tuesday they're dealing with problems caused by the old District Health Board (DHB) system. 

"They're our problems now and the critical thing is and I think of it just like in an emergency department, everything's going on. It's madness, you're short of staff, there are people coming in," Campbell told AM co-host Ryan Bridge. 

"You don't solve that by running around like a chook with its head cut off. You solve it by being calm and if you watch the people in those places, the calm they are steady, they focus on what's most important and they move their way through it and that's really what our board and management have got to do. 

"We can get distracted by everything that goes on or we can focus on getting the job done. And that's what's happening."

It comes after the Nurses Organisation said staff are so overworked that hospitals have become unsafe workplaces. 

Campbell said the health system is currently stretched and using "sticking plaster" measures to cope. 

"One of the things that have happened in the past is that people from Ministers through to people on the front line have taken stopgap [solutions] short term, what I call sticking plaster solutions, and you end up with a pile of sticking plasters," he told AM. 

"If you do that, you've got to go back and say, are we doing the right things in the right places in the right way? So we've got to do that while we're managing to keep the ship afloat.

Campbell said they don't have any choice at the moment but to be using short term solutions. 

"The sticking plaster things are things like paying extra rates for people to cover shifts, like bringing in people who are tired and would be better off not working," he said. 

"We don't have any choice at the moment and in many situations, we are relying on the enormous goodwill and dedication of our staff. We would much prefer not to be doing that but what else can we do."

Watch the full interview with Rob Campbell above.