Christchurch Hospital staff say parking shortage a safety risk after nurses assaulted, stalked

By Niva Chittock for RNZ

Christchurch Hospital nurses say their safety is being put at risk while Te Whatu Ora weighs up building some much needed parking for them.

A shortage of parks at the hospital has seen nurses assaulted, stalked or getting their cars vandalised in recent years.

A two-storey addition to an existing secure staff parking building, which would add 238 parks, was meant to be completed by last October.

But Te Whatu Ora Waitaha said the project, announced in 2020, is "in the detailed design phase but we are currently evaluating the project due to construction cost escalations".

The Nurses Organisation said staff were arriving well ahead of their shift to find a park, sometimes streets away from the hospital and nurse shortages were compounding the problem, a Christchurch Hospital delegate said in a statement.

"Due to the ongoing chronic short staffing, members are filling gaps and working overtime, not finishing until 3am, when no buses are running and there's very little security."

Anne-Maree Thomas, mother of a teenage cancer patient at the hospital, could not believe nurses were walking alone at that time.

She described it as 'a walk of death'.

"It's pretty scary. You've got drunks ... you've got guys who are mentally unwell, you've got P addicts, and then you're expecting your nurses to walk, by themselves, maybe some of them five blocks, to get to their cars."

Christchurch City Councillor Jake McLellan said hospital staff would be feeling uncertain.

"We have had a number of nurses attacked down there... If the parking extension was to not proceed, I would be concerned, that's for sure."

He believed reinstating a central city shuttle would also help.

"Transport links in our CBD are quite weak. There's a safety benefit but also an economic development benefit to the CBD shuttle, and that [the council] actually has some responsibility to come to the party [to fund it].

"It's part of the fix right, better public transport. It's not just about car parking."

If the shuttle made it through the annual plan process, the funding would come through mid-year, he said.

Thomas had also contacted the council about getting better lighting installed near the hospital.

"There's a clear area around the hospital that's so dangerous for the nurses to walk at night... I notice there were blindspots at the hospital, when the girls were walking over that bridge where the Antigua Boat sheds are."

Christchurch City Council confirmed it had received six complaints about a lack of lighting near the hospital or requests to improve it in the past year.

Four were about the Antigua Street Bridge.

The council said staff had initiated planning to add more lighting at the north end of the bridge.

The Nurses Organisation was calling on Te Whatu Ora Waitaha to "do the right thing" and build the long-overdue extension.

"Surely, the safety and wellbeing of essential staff should be the first priority of any employer, especially in nursing where it is proving so difficult to attract and retain staff. Avoidable parking woes just making that problem worse," the hospital delegate said.

"It's an ongoing issue nationally and one that needs to be addressed before a staff member is seriously hurt."

Te Whatu Ora Waitaha was unavailable for comment, but has previously said it is looking at other car parking options to extend the current staff parking capacity.