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Workforce Issues Not New to Nursing

New Zealand Nurses Organisation

Media Release

11 June 2008


Workforce Issues Not New to Nursing

Figures showing gaps in New Zealand’s nursing workforce are not news to members of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, which has been lobbying successive Governments to implement Safe Staffing initiatives for years, says Chief Executive Geoff Annals.

In fact, during the 1990s, NZNO predicted that the Employment Contracts Act, coupled with massive restructuring in the health sector would indeed lead to the situation that has been developing over recent years. “It’s not always nice to be proved right,” says Geoff Annals.

Recently published research into the effects of the 2004 NZNO-DHB multi-employer collective agreement and the achievement of Pay Parity for public hospital nurses notes that in 1998, a report by the Health and Disability Commissioner, precipitated by organisational stress and patient deaths, commented on low nursing morale, increased casualisation of nursing, inappropriate staffing levels and skill mix, lack of professional leadership and an associated reported decline in quality of patient care. 

Geoff Annals says that the return since 2004 to a single nation-wide employment agreement for public hospital nurses is seen by NZNO as the best mechanism to address the issues identified by non-practising nurses for staying out of the nursing workforce. Key factors include pay rates and safe workplace environments. But the effects of the gains made in that agreement are only slowly having an impact on the sector, although the nursing workforce has grown since 2004, having flat-lined for a number of years.

“The increase in pay rates as a result of the NZNO-DHB collective agreement are well documented,” says Geoff Annals. “What is less well known is that a NZNO initiative to set up a Safe Staffing Committee of Inquiry also came out of that bargaining. This joint DHB-NZNO committee produced a report that was accepted by DHBs and NZNO members and the two parties are now making tangible progress on implementing its recommendations with Government support via the Safe Staffing Healthy Workplaces Unit at DHBNZ.”

Geoff Annals notes, however, that there is still much work to be done, a fact made obvious by the current nursing vacancy rates. “There is a massive over-reliance on migrant nurses in New Zealand. Many of these nurses come from countries where the need for their skills is considerably more pressing than New Zealand’s yet because we do not retain enough of our nursing graduates we need them to fill our gaps. Although the numbers of young people applying to nursing schools has increased markedly since 2004, we must do more to make nursing in New Zealand an attractive career.”

Geoff Annals says systematic health workforce planning has been hampered by the lack of coherent national data. While DHBNZ’s Health Workforce Information Programme (HWIP) has started to collect key workforce data at a national level for comprehensive analysis, modelling and forecasting, currently it does not cover the workforce in the estimated 16,000 PHOs and private providers outside the DHBs. It is vital that workforce planning is coordinated across all sectors and that the Government leads a national workforce strategy. Effective planning and development strategies must be introduced, regularly reviewed and maintained to ensure a self-sustainable health workforce.

“NZNOs message is really quite simple,” says Geoff Annals. “We need the right nurses, with the right skills in the right place at the right time. Safe Staffing: Let’s get it right now.”


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