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Nurses' strike: Volunteer surge keeps hospitals functioning

Newshub logoNewshub 7/12/2018 Zane Small
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A last ditch effort to avoid a 24-hour nurses strike failed on Wednesday. 

Around 30,000 nurses across New Zealand walked off the job on Thursday, bringing all non-essential hospital care to a halt. The biggest strike happened in Auckland, where nurses marched down Queen Street. 

Nurses had been offered a $500 million deal, and 500 additional nurses to cope with shortages. The offer also included a December 2019 date for any pay equity payments to come into effect. But the offer was rejected by the New Zealand Nurses Organisaiton (NZNO). 

Some nurses were still working to help DHBs provide life-preserving services, so emergency care continued to operate. In fact, DHBs said more nursing staff turned up to work than expected and that hospitals are "managing well".

If you've had a surgery postponed because of the strike, please get in touch with Newshub at annabracewellworrall@mediaworks.co.nz.

These live updates are now over.

a group of people walking down a street holding an umbrella © Provided by MediaWorks NZ Limited

5:00pm: Nurses at North Shore Hospital are raising their flags high in their strike for better pay and safe working conditions.

4:00pm: The public have come out in support of the nurses' who are striking, tooting their horns as they drive past the picket lines.

"We are with you! Thank you for all the hard work nurse," one person tweeted, showing their drive past the nurses.

3:30pm - DHB representatives say they have successfully dealt with the nurses' strike.

DHB spokesperson Helen Mason, Tairawhiti DHB chief executive Jim Green, and Capital and Coast DHB chief medical officer Dr John Tait spoke at a media conference in Wellington on Thursday.

While Mr Green called it a "major event", Dr Tait said the response to the strike has gone according to plan.

There's been a reduction in the numbers of people coming to hospital, while more people and volunteers have shown up to help than expected.

Ms Mason says the focus now turns to the future.

"While today is very much about patient safety and staff safety, we do need to start to think about how we move into the future," she said.

Mr Green said he looked forward to a resolution to the strike.

3:00pm - DHB representatives are speaking to media about the nationwide nurses' strike at 3pm.

DHB spokesperson Helen Mason, Tairawhiti DHB chief executive Jim Green, and Capital and Coast DHB chief medical officer Dr John Tait will make a statement and then take questions at the media conference in Wellington.

2:45pm: Protesters in Hamilton are calling on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to give nurses a fair offer.

"NZ nurses are worth it Hamilton Picket. Come on @nzlabour," one person tweeted

2:15pm: The Middlemore picket has started at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland.

2:00pm: The Shortland Street cast and crew have come out in support of the nurses' strike.

Actress and director Jacqueline Nairn has posted an image to Twitter showing them rallying inside their set.

"Nurses. We need you. We support you. Nurses do vital and incredible work but they are understaffed & overworked," she wrote.

"#ShortlandStreet cast & crew showing solidarity with the New Zealand nurses 24 hour strike action for patient safety and better pay. #NursesStrike #NZNO"

1:50pm: Nurses are rallying Thames, demanding better pay and conditions.

"Pay them properly, staff health properly," says activist Catherine Delahunty.

1:15pm: Nurses have been spotted on strike outside Waikato Hospital in Hamilton. The photographer, Rachel Miller, says nurses "deserve decent wages".  

a group of people in a street © Provided by MediaWorks NZ Limited

1:00pm: Kiwi nurse Joanne Wong says today's strike is more than about pay. She says nurses are fighting for what they're worth and for recognition of their skills. Otherwise, nurses will cross the ditch and move to Australia for a better life, she warns.

"We need to retain our nurses here, we need to attract others into this profession, our health system depends on that. Please remember the decision to strike was not an easy one, but we know we need more for ourselves and for you as patients," she said in a Facebook post. 

12:30pm: The New Zealand Public Service Association (NZPSA), a union representing the interests of over 62,000 members working in government departments, has tweeted its support for nurses striking across the country today. 

"The PSA and our 65,000 members, including 17,000 people working in DHBs, stand with the New Zealand Nurses Organisation in their strike action today. Thank you for standing up for better staffing and better health services for all of Aotearoa," the union said in a tweet. 

12:00pm: District Health Boards say contingency procedures at the country's hospitals are going to plan for the strike by NZNO nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants that began at 7am this morning.

Spokesperson Helen Mason says DHBs have been planning for a number of months and reports from around the country show hospitals are managing well.

"Emergency departments are relatively quiet and occupancy is slightly lower than expected. More staff and volunteers than expected have also turned up for work this morning. This level of support is very welcome and has been of great help," she said. 

"Arrangements for life preserving services are working well and the national coordination centre is monitoring the situation closely. In the Hawke's Bay where demand meant additional nurses were needed to provide Life Preserving Services, more were made available."

Ms Mason says the focus for hospitals is safety for the rest of the day and through to 7am tomorrow morning when the strike ends.

"Doctors and all other staff are working to ensure anyone who needs urgent hospital care will get it, and anyone who needs urgent medical treatment should not hesitate to go to hospital. They should dial 111 for emergencies or an ambulance," she said. 

10:15am: Nelson nurse Lulu Purda posted a moving message about her motivations behind striking today. She said she's "standing in solidarity with our DHB nursing sisters and brothers as we demand safer staffing and being paid their worth."

10:00am: New Zealand political commentator and analyst Bryce Edwards has criticised the Government for spending $2.3 billion on submarine-hunting planes while not offering more money to nurses.

"NZ now has bought $2.3b submarine-hunting planes, and the Government only had to keep nurses pay down in order to pay for them," he said in a tweet.

The Government announced on Monday plans to buy four Defence Force aircraft off the United States for $2.336 billion. The four new aircraft will replace the six ageing P-3K2 Orion maritime patrol aircraft that have been in operation since the 1960s.

The Green Party's Golriz Ghahraman said the Greens wouldn't have chosen to buy such expensive planes. 

9:00am: Nurses are protsting all over New Zealand. A Kiwi nurse tweeted this image of nurses gathered in Ashburton protesting outside despite the freezing weather conditions. Another image shows surgical nurses gathered in Waitakere. 

8:45am: The head of the Nurses Organisation hopes today's strike action sends a clear message to the Government and DHBs. 30,000 healthcare workers are picketing across the country over a lengthy pay dispute with their employer.

Chief executive Memo Musa says more needs to be done.

"Let's get together, let's sort this out, let's work together to make sure that we value nurses and make sure that we improve their working conditions so that they actually add value to the health system," he told The AM Show on Thurday.

a man wearing a blue shirt © Provided by MediaWorks NZ Limited

Chief medical officer at Capital and Coast DHB in Wellington Dr John Tait says more staff has been needed for a long time. He said it's only in recent years that various tools have been brought in that can determine how many nurses should be on per shift.

Meanwhile, a nurse is demanding answers from the union that represents them. Danni Wilkinson believes strike action could have been avoided years ago. She says it's a question on the minds of many of her colleagues.

"Why have we fallen so far behind and why have we accepted it? And what has the union leadership done to protect and look after us? Do they need to go; do we need some fresh blood in there?" she told The AM Show. 

a person holding a sign © Provided by MediaWorks NZ Limited

8:17am: There were lots of nurses outside Wellington Hospital, despite very cold and rainy conditions, a source told Newshub. Lots of people were tooting at the nurses in support. 

The nurses chanted: "What do we want?" "Safer staffing" "When do we want it?" "Now". 

8:15am: Dr Rachael Mason from New Zealand innovation agency Callaghan Innovation said she hopes New Zealanders understand that nurses are striking "for us".

Patients are at risk "through low staffing" and "inadequate resourcing far too often," she says, adding that graduate nurses deserve better salaries because they often need to work part-time jobs to make ends meet. 

8:00am: It is official: New Zealand nurses are now on strike after turning down the DHBs latest pay rise offer. Newshub's Alice Wilkins is outside Auckland Hospital where hundreds of nurses are currently striking outside the premises.

"Around 70 morning and afternoon rallies, pickets and marches will take place across the country today. Here outside Auckland Hospital nurses have gathered carrying flags and signs that call for safer staffing," Wilkins said. 

The nurses will be picketing at Auckland Hospital until 11am when they will then join with other nurses for a march up Queen Street. The DHBs have said they have contingency plans in place and the message is if you need urgent medical attention head to hospital as normal. 

a group of people crossing a city street © Provided by MediaWorks NZ Limited

One Twitter user said it's "an historic day for nurses in NZ". 

7:45am: Hundreds of nurses have begun to gather outside Auckland Hospital. The nurses are saying they’re tired but excited to be out and protesting, calling for more pay and better work environments. 

7:15am: Nurses begin their strike outside Auckland Hospital

7:00am: The Northern District Health Board says they've got good volunteer support to cover the striking nurses, but other areas such as Hawke's Bay says they've got reduced capacity for emergencies. 

So where should you go if you need medical assistance?

The 20 DHBs across the country have contingency plans in place as they knew this was coming, Newshub's Alice Wilkins reports. The DHBs have outpatient services and clinics that have been reduced or stopped and they've been forced to cancel non-urgent and non-essential procedures today. 

"All hospital services will be operating at a reduced capacity, but some nurses will still have to be on the job. They do still have to provide emergency care and essential patient care," Wilkins told The AM Show. 

"DHBs say it will be a difficult day but they will cope. The advice is: if you are having a medical emergency, still head to hospital as you normally would. If you less-crucial patient care, head to your GP or visit a pharmacy."

If you are seeking help call 0800 611 116

6:30am: Newshub's Alice Wilkins was at Auckland Hospital Thursday morning at 6:20am and things were looking rather quiet. She said a number of security guards had come out of the hospital and had been stationed out front, supposedly waiting or the nurses to start striking. 

There will be a picket happening at 7am. The striking nurses have said they're going to welcome the nurses just finishing their night shift and any others walking out when the strike officially begins. 

"They have a huge day ahead. It's a 24-hour strike action and there are rallies, pickets, marches planned for across the country. There will be about 70 events if you separate the morning and afternoon events that they have planned," Wilkins said. 

Strike will take place at Auckland Hospital, alongside Middlemore, Waitakere, and North Shore. Then the nurses will be joining together for a march up Queen Street at 11am today to Aotea Square. They will then separate and picket again in the afternoon from about 2pm until evening.

Newshub. 

Christchurch nurses march in South Hagley Park leaving from the hospital side heading towards Riccarton road. © Image - Holly Carran / Newshub; Video - The AM Show Christchurch nurses march in South Hagley Park leaving from the hospital side heading towards Riccarton road.

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