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Underfunding takes its toll on DHB staff and services


7th August 2012

Underfunding takes its toll on DHB staff and services

The Public Service Association says government underfunding of District Health Boards is leading to serious staff shortages which are impacting on patient services.

District Health Boards have been working under difficult financial constraints as they try and deliver services on significantly reduced budgets. A Council of Trade Unions’ analysis of the last Budget shows that with Treasury’s inflation forecasts, DHBs are operating with a funding shortfall of around $116 million.

PSA National Secretary Richard Wagstaff says many DHBs are responding by holding open staff vacancies for extended periods of time, which is taking its toll on staff and services.

A PSA survey of 242 members at the Auckland District Health Board found that the vast majority ranked their workload manageability at very high or unsafe levels, which was causing them to feel exhausted and stressed.

“We’re hearing reports of clinicians doing clerical work, people being relocated to other services to fill vacancies, staff unable to take tea and lunch breaks and being refused or not being covered for annual leave,” Mr Wagstaff says.

“One physiotherapist said so many staff were leaving and not being replaced that they were 30 fulltime equivalent positions down, while a lab worker has warned that staff shortages are at crisis level and if something isn’t done soon a major event will happen.”

The shortages are also affecting patient services.

“Lab results turnaround times have increased meaning some patients cannot be discharged as quickly, and in one instance testing for TB could not be carried out for a week due to a shortage of staff,” says Mr Wagstaff.

“There are also long waiting lists for physio treatment and many people such as stroke patients are facing reduced treatment sessions which is delaying their recovery and their ability to return to their own homes.”

“The government is forcing DHBs into a very difficult position and decisions are being made which compromise frontline services. The result is that cuts are being made by stealth. We can’t afford to put the health and safety of patients at risk or see these cuts become an entrenched way of doing business in our health system,” he says.

PSA staff surveys at the Counties-Manukau and Waitemata DHBs also showed similar results in terms of staff workload pressure.


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