After 20 years working as a nurse, walking off the job today was not an easy decision for Tauranga Hospital nurse Rebekah Opie.
“It was a really difficult decision. One of the reasons I went into nursing was to care for patients so the idea of withdrawing that care goes against what you stand for.”
About 30,000 healthcare workers across the country, including staff at Tauranga Hospital, went on strike today after the New Zealand Nurses Organisation rejected the latest pay offer from their DHB employers.
While pay is a key issue, concerns about unsafe staffing levels are also on the table.
Rebekah says she had to weigh up her personal feelings about striking with how nurses in general were feeling.
“I know across the board that nurses are struggling with being able to keep going back to work day after day knowing that there won’t be enough staff there and the conditions are not going to allow them to nurse in the way they want to nurse. For me, listening to nurses across the country helped me make that decision.”
Rebekah says the support from the Tauranga public on the picket line today has been “great”.
“We’ve had so much support from the public, lots of toots and a good turn-out from nurses. It’s quite neat being able to get to know staff from other areas of the hospital and sharing that common purpose and solidarity. It’s been a really positive experience.”
Nurse shortages are something all hospitals experience, says Rebekah, particularly in winter when staff are sick and hospitals struggle to fill the gaps.
“When you have budget constraints as well it means you aren’t able to replace the staff and wards have to run short-staffed.”
One of the biggest problems she has seen in her 20 years of nursing is a lack of systems to work out when more staff are needed.
“That’s called a care capacity programme and that’s one of the things we’ve been asking for in our contract to make sure hospitals implement.
“There is definite improvement but we still have a way to go.”
Rebekah says today’s strike action is not only for the current generation of nurses, but the nurses of the future.
“We want to create conditions for nurses that encourage people to continue to become nurses so that we have a strong future. It’s not just about right now; it’s about trying to get a contract that creates a good future for nurses.”