Health NZ denies hiring freeze on graduate nurses amid union outrage

Health NZ has denied there is a hiring freeze on recruiting graduate nurses after the nursing union called the agency out for going back on their agreement. 

New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) said it was outraged Health NZ was "freezing the employment of graduate nurses into the hospital system". 

NZNO said the mid-year intake of programmes to facilitate graduates in their transition during their first year of practice will be paused, apart from those who are recruited externally into specialist services. 

NZNO chief executive Paul Goulter called out Health NZ for "a lack of commitment from Health NZ to grow and develop New Zealand’s nursing workforce". 

"Te Whatu Ora previously committed to the permanent employment of new graduates through the Safe Staffing Care Capacity Management Accord. It is outrageous that they are now going back on that agreement. 

"We are still in a nursing crisis. As a country we do not train enough nurses to meet our own needs and we rely heavily on internationally qualified nurses to fill the gap. We desperately need more homegrown nurses." 

A nursing student told Newshub their cohort had already interviewed for places at Health NZ and were expecting job offers next month. 

However, Health NZ said there was no pause on recruitment of graduate nurses. 

"Any statements saying otherwise are incorrect. The graduate process is still underway, applicants have expressed their preferences and matching is happening across NZ," Health NZ chief nurse Nadine Gray said. 

"We continue to employ graduate nurses, focusing on areas where we have vacancies. Aside from Health NZ, graduate nurses may also be employed in primary/community care, aged residential care or public health." 

Appearing on RNZ, Goulter stuck by his statement. 

"What they're not saying is they will recruit all of the graduate nurses. What they're not saying is there is a budget in place and that they cannot go past that budget," Goulter said. 

"When they are talking about not pausing anything, the pieces that aren't in that media release are to do with a budgeted cap on graduate nurses and this is what is really worrying the sector." 

He said the union has been told Health NZ can no longer guarantee every graduate nurse a job and this would disincentivise nurses from training. 

While some graduates will be able to find work in other areas of the health system, they would likely earn less. Public hospital workers are typically paid more than nurses at services like Māori and iwi health providers, GPs, aged residential care facilities, Plunket and community health. 

It comes as Health NZ, in efforts to reduce spending, ordered a hiring freeze on all non-frontline roles.  

In an email sent to staff last week, which Newshub has seen, all organisational roles that did not deal directly with patients or the community were paused.  

"Thanks for your support in this ongoing effort to keep us within budget while still maintaining vital frontline services," the email said.  

Earlier this year, Newshub obtained an email from Health NZ to the sector, saying because it's currently operating in a deficit, restrictions are needed including encouraging staff to take annual leave, banning double shifts, enforcing lunch breaks to avoid extra payments and no cover for sick staff, excluding night shifts.