Pressure on health system sees student nurses called in to ease burden, paid Countdown vouchers

Nursing students have been working in Dunedin's hospital to make up for staffing shortages usually filled by qualified nurses, it's been revealed.

At least 20 students filled health assistant roles at the hospital over the weekend, being paid in $200 Countdown vouchers for their work. 

New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) president Anne Daniels told AM it was alerted to the situation by a video posted on the social media app Tiktok. 

In the video, a student nurse details how she volunteered to work shifts at Dunedin Hospital even though she'd never worked in one before.

"I've obviously never experienced this before," the student nurse says in the video. "I dove in the deep end for my first shift.

"Honestly, I felt very unprepared for this shift - I had no idea what I was doing."

Daniels said the major issue was New Zealand didn't have enough nurses or health care assistants "to do the job and keep our patients safe, and keep each other safe, to be perfectly frank".

"Non-regulated health care assistants do patient watches [but] the problem is the nursing shortage and this has been a long time coming," she told AM host Ryan Bridge. "This has been exacerbated by COVID and the flu, absolutely, but it was well and truly there, well before COVID ever came along.

"That is the real problem, it's not the fact that Dunedin Hospital was put in a position where they had to make some very difficult choices to keep their patients safe - it is the fact that this should never have happened at all."

Daniels said she was concerned such incidents were happening throughout New Zealand.

The incident at Dunedin Hospital went "absolutely under the radar", she said.

"If we hadn't seen the TikTok… we wouldn't have known that it was actually on so, my question is, what else is happening around New Zealand to actually deal with the extreme nursing shortages that we have?"

In a statement to AM, Health Minister Andrew Little said using student nurses to help out was "not inappropriate" but expected they be paid appropriately if they were doing the work of health care assistants or registered nurses.

Little. Photo credit: Newshub.

Newshub has contacted Health New Zealand for comment but Jenny Hanson, the agency's nursing medical director for the Southern region, told the Otago Daily Times, "This was a one-off situation".  

Several of the students "have said they would be available to provide further casual shifts and we will onboard them through our usual process so that they will be paid for any further shifts they provide", Hanson said.

The incident comes after the NZNO earlier this month called for an urgent conference to address the health care crisis.