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Ministry Advice On Enrolled Nurses Flawed

2 September 2003

Ministry Advice On Enrolled Nurses Flawed

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) has strongly supported the call of the Otago District Health Board (DHB) chairman, Richard Thomson, to ignore a letter from the Ministry of Health recommending enrolled nurses (ENs) be restricted from working in acute wards, including psychiatric settings.

"The Ministry of Health's advice is flawed," says NZNO chief executive Geoff Annals.

"The recommendation's implications are enormous, given there are 4552 enrolled nurses in the country. The ministry has given no consideration to the skills and extra qualifications acquired by the ENs whom they are proposing be shifted out of acute settings. Most of these ENs have about 15 years' experience. This is more likely to increase risk to patient safety, not decrease it. We have a nursing shortage – inevitably any ENs who are moved will be replaced by lesser qualified and experienced staff."

Geoff Annals said it appeared the ministry had received very poor advice. Advisers appeared not to appreciate the difference between the skills of new graduate nurses and those of ENs who had been nursing for many years and gained a great deal of extra knowledge, skills and competencies.

"Instead of sending out such a directive, the ministry should have examined more carefully the Health and Disability Commissioner's recommendation, which was that ENs working in acute services receive adequate supervision and direction, as demanded by Nursing Council regulations," he said.

NZNO communicated yesterday to the ministry its concerns about this issue. NZNO is writing to all DHBs to support the continued employment of ENs. NZNO totally supports the employment of ENs and the regulation that they have adequate support from employers and other health professionals to ensure their working environment is safe.

"It is not up to the ministry to high-handedly declare that ENs should not be working in certain areas. This is a professional and management decision and should be made at the clinical level, according to the health care needs of patients.

"We know many other DHBs don’t support the ministry's position and will ignore this letter. It’s about time the ministry started to value ENs and their contribution to health care as the wider community does. Why can't the Ministry of Health do so too?" Annals asked.


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