Andrew Little refuses to call buckling health system 'crisis' as figures reveal big jump in reports of understaffing causing safety risks

The increased COVID numbers are piling weight onto a buckling health system.

But the Health Minister on Tuesday refused to use the 'c-word', even though leading GPs, surgeons, nurses, aged care workers and midwives all say the system is in crisis and that Andrew Little should admit it.

Love for the residents, that's what Natalie Seymour, a service manager at Nurse Maude Hospital, says is keeping her staff going.

"They've had enough. They're burnt out, they're tired, they're exhausted, they're sick. It's got to stop," she said.

It's not just action she wants from the Government. It's a word - one Little isn't saying.

"He needs to recognise that nursing is in a crisis and the aged care sector is suffering"

Little said he is "acknowledging the very severe circumstances that they're under". 

Newshub can reveal just how severe those circumstances are for aged care. Each time a patient is put at risk because of staffing shortages, nurses file a Section 31 notice with the Ministry of Health.

In 2020, there were 260 notices of understaffing causing a safety risk. In 2021, there were 851, and in the first six months of this year alone there have already been 987 - more than the entirety of last year.

"Andrew Little needs to acknowledge the aged residential care sector is a sector in crisis," said National's health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti.

But Little said "it doesn't matter what you call it, it's about what you do that matters the most and what we're doing is continuing that effort to recruit".

There are 1200 vacancies across aged care. Warwick Dunn, the deputy chair of the New Zealand Aged Care Association, says that's a quarter of the workforce.

"Acknowledging a crisis is a first step… by acknowledging it we can look at some short-term solutions and then we can look at the long-term solutions."

It's not just aged care calling it a crisis. According to a survey of more than 900 doctors, 99 percent agreed there was a health workforce crisis.

The authors then wrote to ministers warning: "we are at risk of a catastrophic collapse of the workforce".

Asked why not call it a crisis, Little said: "Because I've been called on to call a whole bunch of different things crises before. In the end, it's not the label you put on it, it's what you do about it".

The Health Minister is refusing to use the word 'crisis' because to him that means the health system is literally falling apart at the seams.

But to the health care workers who are burnt out, stressed out and stretched far too thin, just hearing the minister say crisis would at least be a start.