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Primary Health Care Nurses Failed By Funding Lack

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) has been negotiating the Primary Health Care Multi-Employer Collective Agreement (PHC MECA) since November last year. However, NZNO Industrial Advisor Chris Wilson says the additional funding needed to achieve pay parity with district health board (DHB) nurses has not been forthcoming, and that this is largely why negotiations have failed for so long.

"Employers say they would like to pay on a level with DHBs but, despite approaches to the Health Minister, the Ministry of Health and DHB officials by NZNO and organisations such as the New Zealand Medical Association, Green Cross Limited and General Practice NZ, they do not receive the required funding."

She says an experienced nurse covered by the PHC MECA is currently paid 10.6 percent less than their DHB colleague with the same qualifications and experience.

"This is completely unjust and undervalues the amazing work these nurses do in providing expert care in the community - demonstrated so clearly in the COVID-19 response and by the ensuing praise heaped on them.

"This disparity can be fixed, and it really comes down to political will. Budget 2020 put an extra $3.92 billion into DHBs over the next four years whereas PHC employers have costed pay parity for PHC nurses at a mere $15 million."

A petition was released 10 days ago requesting ‘that the Government intervene and that DHBs urgently provide the funding needed to remedy the pay inequity and properly value primary health care workers. This in turn will ensure quality, accessible and affordable primary health care can be delivered.’

More than 7000 people have signed the petition, with 3000 in just the last three days, and Ms Wilson says the messages are very clear.

"People want these nurses to be valued and they want enough of them available to provide the primary health care services we all need. General practices and emergency centres are the front door of the health system."

In a recent survey of NZNO members, 70 percent of respondents said they were considering leaving the sector because of higher pay elsewhere.

"PHC nurses are tired of hearing statements from the Minister and DHBs that they are employed by private providers and their pay is therefore not negotiated with the Government or Crown entities," Ms Wilson said.

"They see this as a cop-out, particularly given there was a post-Budget pledge of more funding to early childhood centres (private providers) in recognition of their value and of their importance in the recovery from COVID-19. That’s a great outcome for them and it shows the Government can address pay inequities. There are clear parallels and we would like to see a similar solution found.

"Without additional funding, the only other way to resolve recruitment and retention issues would be to pass the additional costs on to the consumers and patients. This is not a responsible solution and clearly not in the interests of every community in Aotearoa New Zealand."

Negotiations will resume on Wednesday 10 June. Ms Wilson says she hopes a solution will be possible for the more than 3400 nurses, receptionists and administrators across more than 500 practices and accident or medical centres that the PHC MECA covers.

Primary health care funding comes through the Vote Health Budget and is allocated to general practices and other services via the DHBs and primary health organisations (PHOs).

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