Burnout fears for tired nurses

Heavy workloads are putting Taranaki nurses at risk of burnout, their union, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, has warned.

Staff are coming in on their rostered days off, while others are being called back to work for another shift as soon as they get home, "because no-one else is available," NZNO industrial adviser Lesley Harry said.

"Staff are reporting they are physically and mentally burnt out at the end of their shifts."

Taranaki District Health Board chief nursing adviser Rosemary Clements said there had been a number of double shifts and overtime undertaken by nurses in the past month.

However this was a last resort once all other options had been considered.

"With the arrival of winter illnesses, short-notice sick leave is at times hard to respond to when the hospital is busy and our priority to maintain core services."

The number of nurses employed by the DHB had gone up by 39 since 2008, Clements said.

The NZNO held its nursing forum meeting last week and the stats around short staffing were alarming, Harry said.

Nurses are working an increasing number of double shifts, part- time staff are working up to full-time capacity and casual staff are covering shifts where possible.

Despite this, roster deficits remain and are on the increase, she said.

The emergency department, surgical ward 3A, maternity, Hawera maternity and Central and South Taranaki district nursing appeared to be the most stressed areas.

Nurses have reported taking their workload concerns to DHB senior management and the NZNO had also reported this to the DHB, Harry said.

"It is a harsh reality. Staff are expected to just ‘suck it up' and they're told that's the reality in the health system these days."

There is just not enough capacity to meet the demand.

"I do not know of staff in an area, clinic or department at Taranaki DHB that are not working double shifts, on their days off, and overtime."

She didn't know how long the nurses would be able to keep going at their current pace, but said the situation was at "a tipping point."

DHBs are under increasing pressure to live within their means and budgets, putting pressure on the front line, which was a problem nationally, Harry said.

But the situation in Taranaki is "pretty bad".

Clements said the health and safety of the staff was paramount and all options were considered before nurses were asked to work extended hours.

"We really appreciate those nurses who have helped during this time and acknowledge the dedication that our nurses have shown," she said.

Taranaki Daily News