Andrew Little explains why he's refusing to say health system in 'crisis' in tense AM interview

Andrew Little says "we can use all sorts of labels" to describe the state of New Zealand's health system but continued to refuse to use the word "crisis" in a tense interview with AM host Ryan Bridge.

It comes after a letter from more than 900 doctors was sent to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, saying the workforce was at risk of catastrophic collapse. 

But Health Minister Little won't label it a crisis - although he has conceded the workforce was doing it tough.

Little said on Wednesday the terms used to describe issues shouldn't be a topic of conversation.

"The reality is: we have a health system that is under major pressure - has major challenges," he said. "In the less than two years I've been minister, I've been told of multiple crises in the system - the term is debased in health, at the moment.

"What's most important is that I, and this Government, recognises the serious pressure and problems the health system has - we've done that and that's why, in the five years we've been in Government, we've added 5500 clinically qualified people to our health system, it's why we've increased funding to the extent that we have.

"We've put in billions of extra dollars every year into the system to address the gaps and address the issues that are there, and the shortcomings that are there.

"The reason we changed the health system is that we had a system that was simply incapable of managing the chronic problems." 

Little said he'd also been told by a nurse offshore that nurses or midwives not being on New Zealand's fast-track residency pathway list despite dire staffing shortages was "not an issue". 

He also took a jab at the New Zealand Nurse Organisation, which earlier this year said it was "flabbergasted" nurses weren't included on that list - meaning they could only apply for residency after working for two years. 

"Nurses in New Zealand in hospitals, right now, would be on base incomes between $10,000 and $12,000 a year more had the Nurses Organisation not blocked a pay equity deal they signed up to in December last year," Little said. "You can understand that I find the Nurses Organisation talking with a forked tongue on many issues." 

Nine hundred doctors writing to Ardern showed the health system was in a crisis, National Party leader Christopher Luxon told AM earlier.

"Whether you call it a crisis or whatever, the key thing is we need action," he said. "We need to get some things done."

National was "relaxed" about calling the health system a crisis given the level of stress in the system, Luxon said.

As of Tuesday, there were 710 COVID-19 cases in hospital compared with 689 on Monday - piling further weight on the breaking health system.