New Zealand Nurses Organisation reacts to Government's plan to tackle health system issues

The Government's plan to tackle issues within the country's health workforce has been welcomed by the nurses union, but they say if the plan had come 20 years earlier "we wouldn't be in this mess".

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) has praised the Government's plan, which was released on Tuesday by the Ministry of Health's Workforce Taskforce. 

NZNO manager of nursing and professional services Mairi Lucas said the lack of a specific strategy in addressing the health workforce has been "part of the problem". 

"Had such a plan been produced 20 years ago, when this current crisis was first predicted, we wouldn't be in this mess."

Lucas praised the acknowledgement of Health Minister Ayesha Verrall and the plan itself of the "failure in long-term workforce planning" which has resulted in the workforce's current staffing shortage. 

She said after "significant" work done by the union's delegates, members and officials in highlighting the "dire situation nurses have struggled with for too long", the plan is "certainly welcome[d]". 

Lucas said Aotearoa's staffing shortages or the burden on the health system cannot be fixed without more Māori and Pasifika nurses "providing culturally appropriate care". 

"Growing pathways for Māori and Pasifika into health are the first and second of six defined action areas in the Taskforce's plan," Lucas said. 

"It's also good to see that settling outstanding pay issues, collaborative pay negotiations and helping staff stay safe at work are key tenets in the fifth action area: Supporting and retaining our valued workforce."

She said it's "important" that the new pay gap between Te Whatu Ora and other areas of nursing does not "exacerbate the problem of these nurses leaving their current roles for ones where they are better able to provide for their whānau".

The plan has estimated that Aoteaora is currently 4800 nurses short across the entire health system and that does not include midwives. 

"[The plan] predicts that number will have risen to 8000 by 2032. We'd like to see the evidence and core data behind those numbers."

The union says it currently has a bargaining claim with Te Whatu Ora for staffing ratios, which would guarantee enough nursing staff to meet patient numbers at all times. 

"For health and safety reasons we need to be confident that the plan takes those future ratios into account."

Lucus said Aotearoa has a "massive problem" and it will take "all hands on deck and a workable strategy to get ourselves back on course".

"If we don't the nurses, midwives, health care assistants and kaimahi hauora of the future will be working in even more horrendous conditions."

She added Kiwis deserve a health system that can provide safe and quality care to ensure the well-being of us all. 

"To still be facing an understaffed, inaccessible and frankly dangerous health system in 2032 is the last thing anybody wants to see."

Health Minister Verrall told AM on Wednesday there "absolutely" is pressure on the health system's staff. She said the plan will tackle the issues at hand.

"That's why we have put out this plan to build our workforce but also support our staff working hard for us today in a time of shortage."

The Minister didn't believe the shortage was damaging to Aotearoa's reputation internationally.

"Our health system's reputation is very strong. Whenever I engage internationally, we hear from others about their interest in our successful COVID-19 response," Minister Verrall said. 

"The whole world is facing a shortage of healthcare workers and we are in a good position to build on the gains we have already made and make sure we support our staff well into the future."