A high turnover of nurses in Wellington is just a symptom of a nationwide issue, according to the nursing union.
As bargaining over pay and conditions continue, staffing issues have deferred surgeries further south and there's concern it's nurses with the most experience who are leaving.
Wellington Hospital’s emergency department treats the sickest patients in the region.
"All the confused patients and really unwell patients in corridors — that's not the place for them to be," one unidentified nurse said.
It's also haemorrhaging staff, with 22 of 97 emergency department nurses having left since the start of 2021 — most of them experienced. Four were senior nurses.
Christchurch Hospital is facing problems, too. Fifty-four surgeries were deferred last week due to a lack of resources, which the Canterbury DHB said was a last resort and beds were needed for acutely unwell people.
New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) professional nursing advisor Kate Weston said the high turnover is "concerning because that's not isolated".
"I'm aware in another large ED department, they lost 45 staff over the last six or so months. It's a nationwide phenomenon, unfortunately," she said.
One current experienced ED nurse, who did not wish to be identified, is part of the NZNO whose members marched this week demanding better pay and conditions.
"I haven't given enough care because of ED being understaffed all the time," the nurse said.
She's considered quitting her job at Wellington Hospital, too, and colleagues in other departments have been painting the same picture.
"It is common to be one or two nurses down every shift. I have left areas because I was so burnt out and frustrated that I could not provide the care to a standard that I wanted," one current Capital and Coast Distrcit Health Board nurse said.
"One of the very senior nurses I work with was so stressed the other day, she was ready to resign. When we do ask for additional resources, we're always met with, ‘There's no money'," a current Capital and Coast DHB staffer added.
The Capital and Coast DHB said it's not certain why its emergency department nurses have resigned, but contributing factors include other opportunities, family reasons and house and rent prices.
It said it's developing a plan to attract and retain nurses.
"If you're going to bring new graduates or new to the country nurses, there needs to be that pool of experienced nurses who are there to mentor, to support, to grow these new people and that's the group that we are sadly seeing leaving," Weston said.
Bargaining between nurses and DHBs is set to resume the week after next as some question their future in the high-pressure industry.