Nursing in a sick state, survey shows

KELSEY FLETCHER
Last updated 09:00 14/09/2013

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Nurses confronted with a raft of unsettling changes have admitted morale is low within their profession.

Restructuring, heavy workloads and shift work stood out as major morale breakers in the recently released New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) employment survey.

About 60 nurses from the MidCentral District Health Board took part in the research.

NZNO nursing policy adviser and researcher Jill Clendon said while the majority of respondents love their vocation, many expressed concerns about the state of nursing.

"Morale in the workplace can mean the difference between enjoying your job and not enjoying your job, and there are clear links to patient safety and outcomes," she said. "I think we need to be thinking about how to improve morale - [through] pay, appropriate shift patterns and getting access to professional development."

Dr Clendon said some of the most interesting things highlighted in the research were impacts from restructuring.

Privatisation, merging and regionalisation of services had caused 43 per cent of respondents to question their future as a nurse.

Missed meal breaks and overworking were common occurrences that had serious repercussions, she said.

"What we're also hearing is this is impacting on morale, so people are saying ‘I'm not sure I want to keep nursing. This is really unsettling. I'm always being asked to work longer hours'," she said. "You've got a direct link between hours worked and the rate of errors, which impacts on patient care - that could be medication errors, increasing risk of fall, people missing things and not documenting things."

Opposition health spokeswoman Annette King said patient care could be affected by hospitals choosing not to replace staff.

"In trying to reduce deficits and maintain savings [and] targets, district health boards around the country are deliberately choosing not to replace nursing staff or fill non-clinical vacancies," she said.

"What that does, of course, is increase pressure on those working in already understaffed hospitals."

Mrs King said the human cost is cancelled operations, bed closures, and compromised patient health.

MidCentral District Health Board spokesman Dennis Geddis said the health board has not received a copy of the survey and therefore could not comment.

"However, the health board conducted its own safety culture survey last year which included sections relating to teamwork, job satisfaction and the working environment," he said. The board has a work programme in place to address the key findings of the survey.

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"A significant number of the initiatives in the work programme relate to improving the working environment for all staff, including nurses."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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