It was a fortnight before Christmas, and the final day of voting at the DHB MECA ratification meetings. Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku, chief executive Memo Musa and I were meeting new health minister David Clark for the first time.
In the chit-chat before getting down to the business on our agenda, Clark mentioned the MECA and expressed the hope it would be settled soon.
There was a pause. None of us across the table knew what the result of the vote was going to be. The response I came out with was simply: “Minister, there’s a lot of hurt out there”.
When it was announced the following day that the DHB offer had been rejected, I understood.
I understood because of all the DHB nurses, midwives and HCAs who have taken the time to tell me their stories. Some of those stories stand out.
“I’ve held onto the belief that things will get better”, one nurse said recently. “I’ve done the hard yards of ‘more with less’ in good faith that eventually the rewards would come – a fair salary reflective of the skills, knowledge and responsibility of my profession, sufficient support and resources to do my job safely every day.
“None of this has happened. I am tired and disillusioned that we as nurses should have to continue to fight so damned hard for such fundamental basic rights.”
“We don’t feel valued”, said another, “The effort required to work within the DHB feels so immense that we feel despondent about the longevity of our career choice.
“The sustainability of our profession weighs deeply on DHB nurses. The levels of fatigue and job dissatisfaction due to the ever increasing acuity of our patients are higher than ever. We are in DHB nursing because we love the acute health arena, but are constantly considering whether we can survive it, or how long we can sustain our efforts.”
A third told me, “DHB nurses are hurting personally and professionally. We are no longer able to keep giving extra hours to poorly staffed workplaces, as it increases our own stress and health needs and those of our families – for which we, too, have to join waiting lists for treatment.
“We must ensure there are enough staff to do the work, and fund both the wages of these staff and other health service costs, or else nurses will continue to hurt and leave this great profession.”
Three nurses, three different DHBs. The story’s the same, all over.
As I write, mediation between NZNO and DHB representatives is about to get under way. By the time you read this, the mediation process will be complete.
The outcome of mediation will be presented at NZNO member meetings between March 6 and 23.
The situation can’t be blamed on current DHB leaders or on the government of the day. It’s the result of actions by their predecessors, going back many years.
But I dearly hope that the minister and the DHBs have understood that it’s time for them to do what we do for others, every day. It’s time for them to soothe the hurt. •
(Written January 2018. First published as “The president comments” in Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand, February 2018. Reposted with permission)