Andrew Little says Government is doing everything it can to address nurse shortage as hospitals struggle with immense demand

The Health Minister says the Government is doing everything it can to make nursing more attractive "in a way that it has never been before" as hospitals struggle to keep up with immense demand.

It comes as nurses warn people will die if the sector's staffing crisis isn't fixed as COVID-19, influenza and the worker shortage all hit at the same time.

An urgent investigation is also underway at Middlemore Hospital after claims a patient left its emergency department due to long wait times, only to return three hours later and die from a brain bleed.

Emergency doctors and nurses have been crying out for help over staffing shortages for months now, with the Nurses Organisation warning three weeks ago if something doesn't change, patients will die.

Speaking with Newshub Late on Friday, Health Minister Andrew Little said Labour has made record investment into the health sector while in Government.

"We've done a lot to pick up a health system that had been neglected for a long time. We've increased funding already by about 25 percent and we've had record investment into the health system," he said.

"We've increased nursing roles in the time we've been in Government by 4000. We have a lot of vacancies, we have vacancies in other medical positions as well and we are doing everything we can to recruit into those roles."

While Little conceded the health sector is under pressure, he defended the Government's response pointing to increases in nurses' numbers and pay.

"We've increased nurse pay by up to 20 percent since the time we've been in government. We did another deal with the nurses at the end of last year that would put a nurse with seven years of experience working full time on a base salary of $95,000. We reached that agreement with the Nurses Organisation. The Nurses Organisation have seen backed out of that, we are trying to get that back on track.

"We've started recruitment campaigns into specialists nursing positions particularly intensive care and critical care…we've set up a scheme to get former nurses back into nursing, particularly full-time roles, we've got about 200 under that scheme this year and we are continuing to support people to get into polytechs and universities for nursing training… we are doing everything we can to fill the gaps."

But National's health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti, who joined Little on Newshub Late, said it's not enough.

"We are not a welcoming environment for nurses…the immigration settings a week or so ago that green listed doctors to immediate residency but two years for nurses, how do we explain that? How is that a welcoming environment?" he asked.

But Little hit back saying two years is fast-tracked.

"Nurses are on the green list, they are fast-tracked to get here. They have to work two years for residency," Little said.

"We are doing everything we can to create better conditions for nurses and to make nursing more attractive in a way that it has never been before."

That didn't go over well with Reti who said the Government needs to do more to ensure Kiwis feel safe.

"I think the whole health system is under pressure and has been for many months, maybe even through back to last year," he told Newshub Late.

"What we need here is to give the public some confidence that we have got this -that the safety net will be there when they need it.

"To do that we need to support our healthcare workers, we need more of them, we need to let them know that they are valued, we need to give them conditions that let them help us get the best outcomes we can get and I must admit I am seeing the effort is a bit thin at the moment."