Q&A: Why are junior doctors on strike?

JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/STUFF.CO.NZ

Members of the New Zealand Resident Doctors' Association picket outside Christchurch Hospital.

Thousands of doctors are refusing to work for two days, claiming their tiring working conditions could be dangerous.

All DHBs are affected by the strike. Hospitals face further action as more staff threaten industrial action later on.

Here's what you need to know about the doctor strike.

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Junior doctors strike against long working weeks at Christchurch Hospital.
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Junior doctors strike against long working weeks at Christchurch Hospital.

WHO IS STRIKING?

Junior doctors, known as registrars, are striking. The strikes are affecting all 20 DHBs across New Zealand.

The union behind the strike, The New Zealand Resident Doctors' Association (NZRDA), says up to 3000 doctors walked out of work on Tuesday morning.

Junior Doctors from Waikato Hospital feel they are overworked.
DOMINICO ZAPATA/FAIRFAX NZ

Junior Doctors from Waikato Hospital feel they are overworked.

The strike will last for 48 hours, from 7am Tuesday to 7am Thursday.

WHY ARE DOCTORS STRIKING?

NZRDA national secretary Dr Deborah Powell say DHBs are failing to improve "unsafe rostering practices".

Minister of Health Jonathan Coleman says conditions must change if patients and doctors are at risk.
MARION VAN DIJK/ FAIRFAX NZ

Minister of Health Jonathan Coleman says conditions must change if patients and doctors are at risk.

Negotiations between the DHBs and NZRDA have been going since December 2015, she says.

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The NZRDA is calling for doctors to work a maximum of four nights in a row, or 10 days in a row. Currently, junior doctors can be expected to work for seven nights in a row, or 10 days, Powell says.

The union also wants junior doctors to be given more days off. Doctors are guaranteed two days off after 12 days work, the strike is asking for an extra two days - which would give doctors a four day weekend after 10 days of work.

RNZ

Striking doctor says he and his colleagues are worried their current working hours are far too long and put patients' lives in danger.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman told RNZ doctors' demands would cost $60 million and require an extra 160 junior doctors. Many of those extra doctors would need to be employed for only two days a week, which was unfeasible, he said.

On average, junior doctors work around 53 hours a week, Coleman told RNZ.

However, he agreed that if doctor and patient safety was at risk, something had to change.

275 junior doctors admitted to falling asleep at the wheel, a RDA survey revealed.
WARWICK SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ

275 junior doctors admitted to falling asleep at the wheel, a RDA survey revealed.

"It is unacceptable if our junior doctors are working in unsafe conditions," he told RNZ.

IS DOCTOR AND PATIENT SAFETY REALLY IN DANGER?

The NZRDA has been sharing stories of doctors so exhausted, they've fallen asleep while driving home. It conducted a survey that found 275 junior doctors admitted to falling asleep at the wheel.

Emily Shine, second year resident doctor at North Shore Hospital, is with the union challenging the working conditions ...
LAWRENCE SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ

Emily Shine, second year resident doctor at North Shore Hospital, is with the union challenging the working conditions faced by junior doctors.

Their argument is simple: less tired doctors means safer patients.

Information released under the Official Information Act shows that no DHBs have recorded incidents where doctors reported falling asleep at the wheel.

The Waitemata​ DHB released information showing an "incident" occurred, in 2015. The junior doctor involved said fatigue was a factor in the accident. Other problems, such as study stress were an issue, the DHB said.

RNZ

Ambulance workers give two weeks notice of industrial action - like junior hospital doctors, they say their working conditions are putting patient safety at risk because of fatigue.

ARE HOSPITALS OPEN?

Yes, but if you were planning to get plastic surgery today, you might have to wait.

The striking union and DHBs agreed to keep doctors working in emergency situations. They call it a "Life Preserving Services agreement". The agreement allows for up to 300 junior doctors to keep working in order to maintain essential services.

Senior doctors will also be filling in while the junior doctors strike.

However, all non-urgent hospital services have been cancelled for two days.

Some patients will have their elective surgeries, consultations and non-urgenct procedures delayed until after the strike finishes, as senior doctors are scrambled to fill gaps in the hospital rosters.

Some DHBs rescheduled non-urgent surgeries to occur before the strikes started.

IS OUR HEALTH SYSTEM OVER STRESSED?

Maybe, it isn't just the junior doctors who are unhappy.

As the junior doctors prepared to hang up their stethoscopes and head for the door, paramedics and St John ambulance staff announced they too would be taking industrial action.

The ambulance staff won't strike, but they're warning their employers and the Government that they will take action if more staff aren't hired.

From November 1, St John staff won't fill out paperwork and will ignore uniform regulations.

Their disregard for paperwork will make it difficult for St John to collect ambulance bills.

The First Union's ambulance spokeswoman, Lynette Blacklaws, says staff are unhappy with suggestions that they will no longer get time and a half for working overtime.

They're also worried by being overworked, she says they're often called on to work overtime. They therefore want more funding for ambulance staff, she says.

On top of that, senior doctors are also unhappy.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Ian Powell says his union's members - senior doctors - were being underpaid for filling in during the strike.

The union wanted a typical hourly rate of $340 - up from $300 per hour in 2008 - but health boards were typically offering $200 to $300.

Coleman urged the DHBs and unions to get back to the negotiating table and work out a compromise.

 - Stuff

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