Nurse on Gisborne acute ward fed up, says lack of staffing putting patients at risk

A Gisborne nurse is fed up and exhausted saying the lacking staffing in her acute ward is putting staff and patients at risk. 

It comes as Te Whatu Ora takes legal action and has applied for an interim injunction to stop a planned strike by Ward 5 (acute medical) nurses at Gisborne Hospital on Wednesday. 

The 24 nurses planned to strike from 1:30pm to 2:30pm on Wednesday. But even though NZNO and Te Whatu Ora negotiated an agreement over handling life-preserving services and emergencies, the health agency has applied for an interim injunction against the strike.

NZNO delegate at Ward 5 Christine Warrander told AM on Monday the staffing shortages are making it unsafe for nurses and patients. 

"We know there's a nationwide shortage, it's not just nursing, but we've been saying for a long time we are getting very short-staffed. It's becoming unsafe for the patients and staff," Warrander told AM co-host Laura Tupou.

"We entered a PIN (provisional improvement notice) back in December, before then, we've been talking to management saying we can't keep doing this, it's becoming unsafe. We feel we're not being listened to and striking is the last option for us." 

Warrander's ward is an acute one, which focuses on respiratory, cardiac, renal, palliative care and high acuity patients.

When asked if she is a bit over the ongoing staff shortages, which are making her job difficult, Warrander said it's "frustrating". 

"Nobody wants to go into a job where you're not doing 100 percent and it's heartbreaking when you're looking at patients, where you are not able to give them the care they deserve," she said. 

"You've got family coming to you saying, my mother and my father need this, will you do that? Internally, you're saying, 'I really don't have the time to do that' but somehow you've got to try and make the time."

She added staff are working through breaks and are coming to work "absolutely exhausted mentally, physically and emotionally". 

"There is just no let-up. It's just day after day. We are just getting slammed."

A normal day in Ward 5 is "chaotic" due to the ongoing staff shortages, with Warrander saying each nurse just hopes to get to the end of each shift. 

"We are full 99.9 percent of the time. Often on an afternoon shift, you come in and you've got admissions coming from ED. You don't have beds, you're having to overflow onto other wards, which is taking time. ED is wanting to get their patients up because they're also getting bed blocked," she explained. 

"You don't have the staff to take the patients, you're loading junior nurses up, sometimes eight or nine patients, where they're out of depth with that many patients and some of them are very sick and you are just hoping that you managed to get through that shift."

Te Whatu Ora said it is taking legal action because it believes the threshold for justifying a strike hasn't been met. 

"Te Whatu Ora 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," a Te Whatu Ora spokesperson said. 

"Te Whatu Ora does not consider that the threshold for justifying a strike on this basis is met. We believe that we have an obligation to ask the Court to determine this in the broader interests of staff and patient safety."   

Watch the full interview with Christine Warrander in the video above.