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Key surgical group wants strikes made illegal

Media release
14 July 2008.

Key surgical group wants strike action by essential health workers to become illegal

The New Zealand Orthopaedic Association (NZOA), a professional body of 185 orthopaedic surgeons, is urging the Minister of Health to make strike action illegal for workers in essential health services.

The NZOA has repeatedly called for compulsory arbitration in industrial negotiations in the health industry. “The past and present Minister of Health and union leaders have rejected our plea for this approach,” says NZOA president, John Matheson. “They must believe the rights of the public with serious needs are less important than the rights of health workers to strike.”

Mr Matheson says the NZOA applauds the recent statement by the Health and Disability Commissioner, Ron Paterson: “It is an incontrovertible fact that patient safety is jeopardized during strikes by health professionals.” (Mr Paterson was reporting on two investigations into complaints against the Otago District Health Board during the medical radiation technologists’ 2006 strikes.)

Dunedin-based Mr Matheson says that patients’ lives and limbs were unnecessarily placed at risk during the 2006 strikes. “At a personal level, those strikes represented the most vulnerable period of my career,” he says. “It was extremely difficult diagnosing and managing patients’ injuries and sudden illness without X-rays and other radiological investigations. The Resident Doctors’ Association strikes similarly affected patient care in our public hospitals.”

The NZOA endorses Mr Paterson’s recommendation that the Minister of Health reviews his recent report on the Otago cases and considers what action could be taken to ensure better protection of patients during strikes.

“However, to the NZOA, the answer is obvious. Strikes in the essential health industry must become illegal. The events highlighted by Mr Paterson cannot be allowed to recur.”

ENDS

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