Stressed Waikato nurses cry for help

MIKE MATHER
Last updated 05:00 04/04/2014
Nursing, waikato
Fairfax NZ

Nursing staff at Waikato Hospital plead for help. Mike Mather investigates.

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When you are in need of help in a hospital you call for a nurse - but if the nurses are in need of help, who do they call?

Several nurses and other staff at Waikato Hospital have contacted the Waikato Times wanting to reveal their distress over what they claim are dramatically unsafe and stressful staffing levels, including tales of how many are becoming burnt out and leaving the profession and how any complaints meet with unsympathetic responses.

However, Waikato District Health Board bosses remain adamant there is no crisis shortage of nurses at the hospital and the situation is well under control.

The outpouring of discontent from the nurses follows a story in the Times last week, which revealed concerns over staffing and stress levels raised by Labour and Green party health spokespeople Annette King and Kevin Hague.

"If a nurse complains . . . the management responds, by putting the blame on the nurse, saying it is your personal life affecting [your] work and this is not acceptable, not realising the horrible work conditions they are putting us in," one staff member said.

"It's not just the staffing that we find intolerable," said another. "It's also the way people who have no concept of the work you do interfere . . . and make it difficult for you to perform your job to the best of your ability."

All those who emailed or wrote to the Times asked for their identities to be kept secret, out of fear of reprisal from management.

There may be some credence to the nurses' claims. As previously reported in the Waikato Times, between 2009-10 and 2012-13 there was a 16 per cent nationwide increase in patient demand, while full-time nursing numbers went up by only 4.4 per cent.

Among the allegations put to the Times were claims that nurses were expected to take on the job of looking after six to seven patients at any one time, some of whom could be acutely unwell. It was also claimed that fulltime nursing staff often worked six to seven shifts in a row with one day off and then back for as many as 12 more shifts. It was also common for nurses to be rostered morning, afternoon and night shifts in one week.

But nursing and midwifery director Sue Hayward said nurses at the hospital were never allowed to work more than six days in a row.

It was true that some younger nurses might be brought to tears when "they suddenly become faced with the reality of nursing", however those in such predicaments would always get support.

The board used a "more sophisticated" system of managing nurse-to-staff ratios called Hours Per Patient Day, which recognised that different patients required different levels of care.

"So, for example, in the intensive care unit a patient would have one nurse assigned to them 24 hours in every day."

Patients who were "in a rehab environment" needed less nursing time.

The average, for patients in the hospital's general wards, worked out to around 4.8 to 5.2 hours per patient day, Hayward said.

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New Zealand Nurses Organisation associate professional services manager Hilary Graham-Smith agreed that nurse-to-patient ratios were "a blunt instrument" when it came to measuring the situation.

"It depends on the patient and how sick the patient is . . . One nurse to six or seven patients does sound excessive. Four to five would be a more reasonable number. When it comes to hours-per-patient-day ratios we recommend the use of an acuity tool called TrendCare."

Waikato Hospital group manager Mark Spittal said the board was in the process of introducing a different kind of acuity tool called McKesson's, which Australian hospitals were using and included good rostering and forecasting components.

McKessons would be in use at the hospital by the end of this financial year, he said.

The hospital also employed a system called Productive Wards, which included routine staff surveys that could pick up any morale-related issues.

mike.mather@waikatotimes.co.nz

Staff discontent, page 2

- Waikato Times

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