Six out of 10 New Zealand nurses have quit jobs because they are burnt out or because they face unmanageable moral issues.
A pilot study by Massey University showed many nurses reported moral distress caused by situations out of their control, including short-staffing and long shifts, said Dr Martin Woods of the School of Health and Social Services.
The results were similar to overseas studies, and a larger-scale national survey was under way with results due in mid-2012.
"The most disturbing thing was six out of 10 argued they'd left their position because of a moral issue," Woods said.
There are 47,000 registered nurses practising nationally, figures from the Nursing Council of New Zealand show. Many claim they witnessed poor care, including patients being left in hospital corridors for hours due to a lack of beds, and poor communication between staff and management, Woods said.
"Others talked about burning out because of pressures."
An Auckland-based nurse said working as a new graduate in a public hospital's emergency department three years ago made her want to quit.
"I had 13 patients at once, they were all high risk and needed constant monitoring. In ED [emergency department] you should only have two to three patients, max. I only lasted 10 months, I burnt out."
She said her studies had not prepared her for what she faced, and it was hard to get managers to understand the extent of pressure nurses were facing.
She left to work in Australia where she received "much more support" before returning to work in primary health care. But again, she was not impressed with what she found.
Some health workers "ticked boxes" so clinics qualified for extra funding, rather than carrying out the appropriate assessments, she said.
"For cardiovascular risk assessments there's a chronic management programme where you're supposed to set goals for patients. But people just tick the boxes."
The problem got worse as paperwork became computer-based, making it easier for notes to be rushed over, she said.
Canterbury had particularly borne the brunt of pressure this year, one nurse said.
While nurses helped each other cover shifts following the February earthquake, winter snow made it difficult.
"The first time it snowed the four-wheel-drive club helped get staff into work, but the second time we had to make our own way in."
Staff who had 4WDs were encouraged to transport those who didn't, with the alternative being to walk, she said.
Woods urged registered nurses who had received the questionnaire on moral distress to have their say.
"The findings will provide nurses and health care agencies with a reliable measure of nursing concerns relating to ethical practices."
- Sunday Star Times
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