Just two nurses working at Wairarapa emergency department as staff hit all-time low

Wairarapa Hospital's emergency department has reached an all-time high in staffing, with staffing at just 50% of the bare minimum.  (File photo)

Piers Fuller / Stuff

Wairarapa Hospital’s emergency department has reached an all-time high in staffing, with staffing at just 50% of the bare minimum. (File photo)

Wairarapa’s emergency department has reached an all-time high in staffing, with staffing at just 50% of the bare minimum.

Earlier, during the day shift, some nurses were working their 10th day in a row and on Sunday evening only two staff members were on deck.

Wairarapa emergency room nurse Lucy McLaren worried about her colleagues and their patients.

“The team is terrified of making a mistake and hurting someone, or missing a key part of someone’s care and causing harm,” she said.

READ MORE:
* Covid-19: 100 more emergency doctors needed to treat Omicron, union says
* Nursing shortage in Blenheim prompts merger of HDU into Wairau Hospital
* ‘Please save ED for emergencies’: Nurses and midwives will strike in the south

The lower staffing limit has been calculated for emergency services across the country after the 24-hour strike in 2018, and is the number who are able to perform ‘life preservation services’ – Sunday , Wairarapa’s ED had half the required number even during a move.

Emergency departments (EDs) across the country were offering double or even triple time to nurses who took extra shifts, while those on the roster were not encouraged to come, despite working in the same harsh conditions.

Those at nearby Hutt Valley Hospital were being paid extra for unscheduled shifts, but Wairarapa DHB refused to implement a similar scheme on the grounds that they were awaiting a national response.

THINGS

Health Minister Andrew Little speaks with Stuff reporter Rachel Thomas about the pressures on the healthcare system, nurses’ pay and how he plans to address labor shortages.

McLaren said the nurses were ‘at a loss’ for being disadvantaged because of the region in which they worked.

The shortages “had been brewing for years and repeated governments underfunded the healthcare system,” McLaren said. “When you add another pandemic…”

Whenever the department was short-staffed, McLaren crossed his fingers that they were lucky and had a quiet night. However, luck was a strategy she was tired of relying on.

New Zealand Nurses Organization president Anne Daniels said chronic understaffing in departments was “extremely dangerous”.

In addition to putting staff under enormous pressure, patient wait times would be much longer than national triage standards allow.

“We can’t fill in the gaps anymore, we don’t have the resources,” Daniels said. “It’s not for lack of a willingness to try.”

This was happening not only in emergency departments, but also in the elderly and primary care sectors. With the ambulance at the base of the cliff being understaffed, the best way for the public to help was prevention.

“Masks and hand washing should be in place everywhere you go,” Daniels said. “It will reduce the flu, reduce the risk of Covid and the pressure on hospitals and primary care.”

Wairarapa DHB was unavailable for comment.

Lillian L. Pena