New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) has hit out at Te Whatu Ora, which has taken legal action to stop a planned strike in Gisborne next week.
NZNO says their exhausted staff are being "strong-armed and silenced" by Te Whatu Ora.
Te Whatu Ora has applied for an interim injunction to stop a one-hour health and safety strike by Ward 5 (acute medical) nurses at Gisborne Hospital, according to NZNO.
The 24 nurses planned to strike from 1:30pm to 2:30pm on Wednesday.
Just two weeks ago, NZNO says they had negotiated an agreement, which was signed off by Te Whatu Ora, over the provision of life-preserving services, including a protocol for the management of emergencies.
NZNO says it will oppose the interim injunction and the hearing will take place on Monday at 10am in Wellington.
NZNO delegate at Ward 5 Christine Warrander said this was a small-scale strike by a number of exhausted staff for a short period and was motivated by genuine fears for their own and patients' wellbeing.
"We took this action as a last-ditch effort to be heard after repeated pleas for help had fallen on deaf ears," Warrander said.
A provisional improvement notice (PIN) was issued back in December for Ward 5 in response to health and safety concerns including acute staff shortages, untenable workloads, staff stress, increased sick leave, burn out and resignations.
But Warrander says the situation has only become worse since the PIN was issued.
"Our asks are simple, such as reducing beds from 25 down to 20 to make workloads more manageable, but instead of acknowledging they have a serious problem and addressing it, we feel like we're being strong-armed and silenced," Warrander said.
"Staff morale is at an all-time low and my colleagues and I are genuinely anxious about coming into work every day."
NZNO chief executive Paul Goulter said this "at best heavy-handed" response in the middle of a crisis, where the wellbeing of both patients and nurses is seriously at risk, does not reflect well on Te Whatu Ora as an employer.
"Our members right across the motu are experiencing the same dismissive response to their concerns and calls for help, and they're just asked to do more and more until that becomes the norm," Goulter said.
"This just cannot carry on because people's wellbeing is at risk, and our members have the right to strike in a situation like this."
He said there had been an outpouring of support from nurses around the country for the courage and determination of the Ward 5 staff.
"Nurses across the health system feel like their situation is very similar and they're angry and disappointed that Te Whatu Ora has tried to prevent a very legitimate and justified strike," Goulter said.
"These nurses just want to get this dangerous situation in their ward fixed because they care about their patients. This response from Te Whatu Ora will only ensure things continue to worsen."
He said NZNO would always be happy to sit down with Te Whatu Ora to discuss this situation further.
A Te Whatu Ora spokesperson told Newshub it acknowledges the right of staff to engage in lawful strike action.
"However given the work that is in progress and processes currently underway to address the health and safety concerns raised by employees in this instance, Te Whatu Ora does not consider that the threshold for justifying a strike on this basis is met," they told Newshub.
"We believe that we have an obligation to ask the Court to determine this in the broader interests of staff and patient safety."