Fearful for future of NZ nursing
by Michell Krawczyk
I am a nurse of 14 years, and I have a very simple message for the people of New Zealand. Be afraid for your health system. Be very afraid.
Nurses (and within that term I include healthcare assistants and other hospital health workers) are burnt out and exhausted, and many are now looking to leave the profession or to go and work overseas where pay and conditions are much better.
The stress of Covid-19 over the last year has been enormous on nurses. The sheer amount of work that has been asked of us, coupled with the fear of contracting the virus and bringing it home to our loved ones, has become almost unbearable.
But the thing that will really break the back of nursing in New Zealand is the first offer from the district health boards (DHBs) in our latest round of multi-employer collective agreement negotiations. These are held every two-three years and involve around 30,000 members of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation.
We’ve just been offered, on average, 1.38 percent — which is actually just under the rate of inflation — and some of us are being offered even less than that. In all my years of nursing, this is the worst offer I have ever seen and we’re in the middle of a worldwide health crisis! I am disappointed and disgusted.
Every one of my colleagues thinks the same, but it’s not just because we feel undervalued and disrespected by the offer. We’re actually fearful. This offer does nothing to make nursing more attractive, so our unsafe staffing problems, which were already at crisis point before Covid-19, are about to get terribly worse.
That’s a genuine concern for us all. We’re barely coping now, so what will happen if a serious outbreak occurs?
And where will we get the extra nurses to replace the ones we will lose to the nationwide vaccination rollout?
I became a nurse because I wanted to be there for others. It’s my passion and I love seeing people come in sick and leave well. But most days I work in a full, busy and understaffed ward. So, I’m used to that feeling in the pit in my stomach that says this is going to be yet another bad day where everyone gets the bare minimum.
Like many other nurses, I often take on extra shifts because I don’t want to leave my colleagues working in even worse conditions. Like many other nurses I feel drained and overworked, but worst of all is how this affects the level of care I can give my patients. I don’t get time to talk or connect with them, which could really help with their recovery. Often basic cares are missed and I go home most nights troubled by what I may have forgotten to do.
It’s not fair that so much has been asked of nurses, especially over the last year, and that we are now being offered so little. Many of us have had enough and a lot of my colleagues are planning a move to Australia. And fewer new graduate nurses will be there to replace them, because they’ll struggle to support a student loan on entry-level nursing wages.
We’ve stepped up when you needed us over the last year, New Zealand. Please support us now in our struggle for decent wages and safer staffing so we can continue to be there for you.
■ Michell Krawczyk is a clinical nurse specialist working in the Tairawhiti region.