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New Zealand’s nursing crisis grows amidst Covid-19

Claudia Toxopeus
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Nurses are fed up and are calling for action  Flickr

It’s a situation that’s gone from bad to worse for nurses across Aotearoa.

An industry already under pressure is now battling against a community outbreak of the Delta variant of Covid-19.

And those on the frontline are feeling the strain.

On Friday 20 August, the Ministry of Health issued an exemption for essential health workers from the need to fully self-isolate.

This means nurses who live with close contacts are still being asked to turn up for work.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said hospitals were identifying the lowest-risk staff they can have working, so medical services can continue to function.

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) says this exemption shows how desperate the health system is in terms of short staffing.

NZNO Kaiwhakahaere, Kerri Nuku, says it makes no sense.

“It further underscores the very urgent need to address short staffing.”

She says nurses are exhausted and don’t have a lot to give right now.

“We know some nurses are struggling to come to terms with what is being asked of them. Even those of us locked safely away in our homes are anxious and we don’t have to go to a workplace where we face the virus every day.”

Lower Hutt Emergency Department nurse Dorothy Davy says they're being pushed to their limits.

“This is hard, so hard. We are below short-staffed and the public doesn’t stop coming.” 

Auckland nurse Deena Cardon tells a similar story. 

“I was crying by an hour into my shift. I truly don’t know how I’m going to go in next week.”

Canterbury District Health Board spokesperson, Dr Helen Skinner says they have a number of support systems in place for staff.

"The DHB takes the wellbeing of its employees extremely seriously and has a range of workplace supports."

When questioned if the CDHB has enough PPE for nurses, Skinner said Canterbury holds "adequate" supplies. 

Nurses and midwives were set to strike on Thursday, August 19, but due to the outbreak, it was cancelled.

It was the second of three planned strikes and came after members voted to reject the latest DHB offers.

Nurses are now calling for public support.

Nuku urges the public to get behind them and show solidarity however they can.