The Government is under fire after it revealed it is teaming up with TV show Shortland Street to promote nursing as the sector battles with dire staff shortages.
On Monday Health Minister Andrew Little outlined a plan to boost health workers amid intense pressure on the sector.
The changes included measures such as offering financial incentives for overseas doctors and nurses to move here and training more nurses.
But it was a more unusual measure that caught social media's attention. Little revealed part of the measures included a recruitment campaign with Shortland Street to encourage young people into nursing.
Little said the first initiative involving Shortland Street would use the programme to "assist in promoting nursing as a fantastic career". It's unclear exactly what it will involve.
But it didn't go down well with New Zealand Nurses Organisation president Anne Daniels, who issued a scathing review of the partnership.
"I am already fielding texts from members asking ‘Is this for real?’," Daniels told the Otago Daily Times. "Unfortunately, as much as some people might like Shortland Street, it really does not reflect the true realities of what we face every day when we go to work. Everybody is suffering out there, it’s not romantic," she said.
It's a sentiment shared by many people online with news of the collaboration trending on social media platform Twitter - but probably not for the reasons the Government was hoping.
National MP Chris Penk led the online criticism, using the collaboration to lash out at the Government.
"Interesting partnership between the government and Shortland Street," Penk Tweeted. "One is a fictional setting where people who aren’t qualified in real life make a show of pretending that they're caring for others …… and the other is a TV show. Sad."
Another person criticised the campaign, pointing out most Kiwis know nursing is a career option but are put off by the conditions and pay.
"Do the government really think advertising nursing as a career on Shortland Street is gonna help? Everyone knows you can become a nurse and there are jobs available but no one wants to because we all know how horrible the conditions/pay are," they said.
Another suggested David Lomas, best known for his TV series where he reunites long-lost family members, would be better at attracting nurses.
"The Ministry of Health would be better off getting David Lomas to find some nurses overseas who have long lost family in New Zealand, rather than using Shortland Street to recruit people with IQs in the 80s to apply for nursing school," they said.
Another suggested if Shortland Street is being used to promote nursing, it needs a few tweaks.
"Make Shortland street more realistic. Make the nurses work 17 hour shifts before sleeping in their cars," they said.
But not everyone was critical of the move.
"I think the Shortland Street storyline is a genius idea amongst a number of strategies being undertaken at once. We need a bit of divergent thinking in times of a worldwide shortage in healthcare workers," one person said.
Little also defended the campaign on Tuesday telling Newshub the idea came from the New Zealand Nurses Organisation.
"The real nurses campaign, which also entails exposure on Shortland St, comes from the New Zealand Nurses Organisation. The oversight group has had an NZNO representative on it," he said.
"The NZNO came to me last year to say they had developed some material. They didn't have the means or resources to take it any further. I was attracted to the idea of the ministry and the Government picking that up and working with the NZNO to create the campaign that we have now created with their involvement and consent."
He said the campaign is about getting "good information in front of young people who are making up their minds about their career choices now".
Little also defended the immigration settings for nurses saying there is already strong interest.
"The fact we have 7000 clinically qualified people from overseas registering their interest to come and work here tells me the Green List is working as intended whether it be for doctors, nurses or anyone else.
The criticism comes after nurses across the country have repeatedly raised concerns about a severe shortage of staff, and poor pay and working conditions.
It also comes after the Government faced heavy criticism after it excluded nurses from the same residency pathway as doctors.
Earlier in the year, the Government announced a new Green List for skilled immigrants. The fast-tracked residency pathway means those in certain skilled occupations could come to the country on a work visa from July 4 and apply for residency from September.
A Work to Residency Pathway allows other occupations to apply for residency but only after working in the country for two years first.
Occupations on the fast-tracked list include GPs, surgeons, engineers and several construction roles. The second pathway includes nurses, midwives and teachers.
The reset was widely criticised as being sexist with Family Planning, Plunket and the New Zealand Nurses Organisation taking fire at the fact that mostly male-dominated jobs made it into the first list while female-dominated jobs were on the secondary list.
In response to criticism over the policy, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said nurses already have a pathway but are just expected to commit to working in the industry for two years because they are slightly more likely to migrate and leave the sector.
Ardern also suggested if the two-year requirement was too high for some nurses, perhaps they didn't actually want to come and work as a nurse in Aotearoa.
"If the issue is that we have a nursing shortage, why would you not want someone who came into the country to come in not just with a qualification but with a commitment to be a nurse?" the Prime Minister questioned.
"If people think that the barrier is too high that suggests that perhaps they don't want to be a nurse in New Zealand, and that is really what we need them for," she told AM.
The Shortland Street collab wasn't the only measure announced by the Government on Monday. Other measures include:
- Easing the process for overseas nurses and provision of up to $10,000 in financial support for international nurses for NZ registration costs
- Provide for the costs of reregistration for New Zealand nurses who want to return to work
- Covering international doctors' salaries during their six-week clinical induction courses and three-month training internships
- Co-ordinated and enhanced national and international healthcare recruitment campaign
- Training more doctors, nurses and radiographers
- Dedicated immigration support services to make it easier for health workers to move to New Zealand
Little said the measures were in response to immense pressure on the health system as a result of the "COVID-19 pandemic, the worst flu season in living memory and historic under-valuing and under-resourcing".
"The current health workforce shortages have been decades in the making, but have been exacerbated by COVID-19. Today's package of measures removes actual cost barrier to migrants entering the health workforce while also ensuring we are training enough people locally in the long-term," he said.