'Healthcare is in crisis' - registered nurse talks staff burnout, safe staffing accord

District health boards will today sign a safer staffing accord to allow for safer nurse staffing numbers.

Registered nurse Danni Wilkinson spoke to Breakfast this morning about how understaffing is risking patients’ lives. Source: Breakfast

Registered nurse Danni Wilkinson spoke to TVNZ 1's Breakfast this morning about the importance of nurse safety.

"I think some wards are reasonably well-staffed a lot of the time, but in a lot of places, they are understaffed and we know that nurses aren't able to get to all the cares that we need to do," Ms Wilkinson said.

"The other problem that we're having is that people are getting called in on their days off or when they're on maternity leave; study leave is getting cancelled; annual leave is difficult at times and so there's just not enough nurses to call upon when those shifts are short-staffed.

"People are getting burnt-out because they're not getting their days off - they're not having their holidays."

Ms Wilkinson says lives are at risk - nurses and patients.

She says international research shows that "when nurses are caring for more patients than they should, the risk of mortality for those patients goes up and also that risk of adverse events goes up".

"If we can't get to anything but the essential things, we're not turning patients as often as we need to and doing those assessments and they're getting pressure sores or they're having falls, things like that so risk to patients is really high as well when we are short-staffed."

Ms Wilkinson says there currently isn't a lot of information around the safe staffing accord, which hopes to combat issues with staffing and health concerns within the profession, as it was "a surprise that was sprung on us on Friday".

"While I think, on the whole, it's a good thing and putting the responsibility back on to DHBs and the government to look after staffing and not making nurses worry about it."

"I'm a bit concerned about how it was presented to us and how it's come about. Nurses were not consulted. We were not asked, 'What do we need?' and we're the people using these tools so we should be consulted about what tools are going to be implemented."

She says nurses are "not thrilled" about the tools, known as Care Capacity Demand Management, which Ms Wilkinson says has been slowly implemented in DHBs for the past 15 years and are either “not correctly implemented” or “just not fit for use”.

"We've had data for 15 years. We've been using them in some areas for 15 years – no improvements have been made. I think that shows us, really, there are better ways to do this and this is probably not the best option."

Ms Wilkinson says nurses need to see "a really clear plan [in the accord] as to how they're going to attract and retain nurses into the industry, and there's been no talk about that yet."

"Healthcare is in crisis. We need to fix it and you can't wait any longer - it's just going to get worse.”