Covid ‘icing on pretty horrible cake’ for health worker shortages

Source: 1News

Long-standing workforce shortages in healthcare are an “undeclared emergency”, the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists says, with the Covid-19 pandemic making a “difficult situation worse”.

The union’s executive director, Sarah Dalton, told Breakfast: "It’s been really, really bad for some years now.

"So Covid’s just the icing on a pretty horrible cake and our constant calls for mapping, for a plan, for active recruitment, for centralised leadership around this, has fallen on deaf ears so far.

"Our only hope really is that the new Health New Zealand, as a centralised body, will take this more seriously and act. But meanwhile the Omicron projections mean we’ve got an already overstretched system that may well break."

Dalton said the "undeclared emergency" means there are gaps in every healthcare service across the country.

"It means unmet health need is at massive proportions from a patient point of view."

Dalton said its members are suffering burnout — numbers are running at 50 per cent — so sustainable staffing is needed.

To be "level peg" with Australia, which has higher per capita staffing than New Zealand, Dalton said more senior doctors, GPs and nurses are needed.

The union has estimated 1500 more senior doctors are needed, 1400 GPs and 12,000 nurses to match Australia per capita.

Health Minister Andrew Little has previously said shortages are not to the tune of these numbers. He said there are about 1500 nurse vacancies and that there is "capacity in the health system" to look after hospitalised Omicron cases.

The Prime Minister has earlier said the Government was planning for scenarios of up to 50,000 cases a day to make sure it was well prepared, but stressed it was not based on modelling.

Dalton’s comments come ahead of employment figures being released later Wednesday which are tipped to fall towards three per cent.

'Bad' to 'chronic' workforce shortages

To get a "real feel" for the issue, Breakfast’s Matty McLean said the show had reached out to industry bodies and unions to see how they rate workforce shortages in their sectors.

The rating used was 'not a problem', to 'bad', to 'chronic'.

The New Zealand Construction Industry Council said the skills shortage is chronic.

"We’ve just got to carry on, Matty. Like we say it’s not easy, but with all of that work out there we know that we can invest in our people and invest in the future," its executive director Graham Burke told Breakfast.

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists said shortages were chronic and an "undeclared emergency".

Nurses were the same, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation said, with many working in understaffed conditions.

The Employers and Manufacturers Association said shortages were bad, but in some cases chronic, for technical roles.

The New Zealand Educational Institute said the education workforce was "chronically understaffed". There are at least 600 jobs being advertised right now, it said.