Hastings nurses say their concerns about "dangerous working conditions" at Hawke's Bay Hospital emergency department, which they say puts patients at risk, haven't been addressed.
As a result, they've issued the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board with a provisional improvement notice (PIN) for failing in its primary duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
The New Zealand Nurses Organisation said it supported staff at Hawke's Bay Fallen Soldiers' Memorial Hospital to issue the PIN.
The NZNO said "repeated attempts to escalate concerns about dangerous working conditions that threaten patient safety have been ignored or minimised".
PINs legally require an employer to address a health and safety issue before a certain time. PINs can only be issued by trained health and safety representatives when other avenues to address a serious area of concern have been exhausted.
NZNO organiser Sue Wolland said issues included patients being put in inappropriate or hazardous places such as corridors.
She said staff reported “dangerous delays” in the triage and assessment of patients, and unsafe and inadequate staffing which meant nurses were overworked. Some staff said they felt unsafe and anxious while at work.
"ED staff, including those in leadership, have repeatedly raised these concerns with the DHB and minor solutions have been proposed that never seem to eventuate,” Wolland said.
“Our members have made these approaches in good faith, but sustained lack of progress has been the tipping point for issuing this PIN.
"What we have here is a serious or sentinel event just waiting to happen, resulting in avoidable patient death and the potential end to nursing careers.”
She said the DHB needed to urgently address the issues, including creating contingency plans to cover staff when they’re sick.
Wolland said the DHB should also ensure staffing levels were safe and would allow for quality patient care.
The PIN was issued on Tuesday, and Hawke’s Bay DHB is required to comply by October 5.
DHB 'committed to resolving concerns'
In a statement to 1News, Hawke’s Bay DHB chief operating officer Chris Ash said the DHB "was committed to resolving concerns raised by working with managers, staff and union delegates".
He said the DHB would work with those groups to put a health and safety action plan in place.
Ash said pressures on the ED had been "unrelenting" as it faced increased seasonal demands of acutely sick patients. He said this was compounded by the RSV outbreak, subsequent Covid-19 lockdown challenges, and wards near or at capacity.
“Pressures on emergency departments are being felt nationwide," Ash said.
“Hawke’s Bay DHB takes its responsibility of providing a safe working environment very seriously and is focused on continuing to make improvements, where it can, to better support staff."
He said, in recent months, the DHB had "placed significant investment" to recruit additional staff, including five additional Senior Medical Officers and 10 additional nursing staff in the ED.
"Redesign work to support better patient flow is also in progress," he said.
“We will work through this process in an open, transparent and compassionate manner with all parties.”