Our nurses are "tired to the bone", "tearful" and "unheard"

Opinion: There were a lot of shocking numbers and percentages that came out of the 2,700 letters nurses wrote to the minister of health on Wednesday. 

The most frightful was the 72 percent of nurses saying they are either seriously thinking of leaving nursing or New Zealand or that they’d already made plans to do so. 

90 percent of nurses say back pay and pay equity for all nurses are needed. Their case is hopefully going to be heard in the Employment Relations Authority in late August. 

80 percent of nurses said 'provide more nurses.' One of the key ways of doing that, based on 64 percent of nurses, is to put nurses on the fast track to residency - something the Tova team have been campaigning for on the show. 

But numbers can sometimes just seem like numbers. What was truly shocking and genuinely very upsetting is reading through the letters nurses have sent. Their experiences, their words. 

327 pages to the Health Minister. 

I couldn’t get through them all - frankly, it was too distressing. 

But we must know this and the Health Minister must do too. Here are just a few quotes from nurses - and this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. 

"I am tired to the bone" - wrote one of the 2,700 nurses. 

"Where I work, my colleagues and I are tired, burnt out and people are leaving. The pressure on us in the past two years has been unrelenting, steadily increasing, we’re being pushed beyond our breaking point."

Another - "We came into the profession to care for patients. We are so exhausted and overworked, things are being missed and the quality of care they receive is not our best. It scares me that one day we may make a mistake and a patient gets injured or dies as a result."

Another nurse backs that up with examples.

"Patient who had a heart attack was missed due to understaffing in ED. The frail patient had a fall, hit his head causing a subdural haemorrhage and then subsequently died because there was insufficient staff to assist him when he got out of bed. Working in a cardiology ward, caring for 14 patients overnight. Each shift felt like holding my breath, hoping that a sentinel event did not happen."

There are hundreds of letters like this.

"Can't do my job. Spend all my time coercing my colleagues to fill gaps. 18hr days standard at the moment. Working in dangerous environments."

"I feel I am constantly apologising for letting my patients down when I can't respond to them in a timely way." 

"We miss breaks, are stressed to the point of tears at times. I go home worried about what is happening after I have left and guilty when I can’t pick up extra shifts or do more hours. My children are missing out on my being with them this school holidays and my husband gets a wife who is stressed and tearful at the end of a day." 

Guilt is a real theme in these letters, consider that - these nurses doing their level best to care for people and feeling this enormous guilt - to patients, to their colleagues. 

Here’s another.

"A crisis is working short-staffed day after day, and being unable to provide adequate care to patients due to high workloads… and feeling guilty saying no to extra shifts, knowing the pressure your colleagues will be under, and wondering whose surgery may be cancelled because you were unable to pick up extra shifts."

Staff feel moral distress not having enough time or resources to adequately care for patients.

They offer solutions like this one.

"Surgery is being cancelled because there are not enough nurses. Areas are short-staffed, and nurses feel unsafe in their practice. Everyone suffers. Loosening immigration criteria to allow nurses immediate residency would go a long way to improve this situation." 

It sure would but the Government’s still refusing to listen. 

One nurse "strongly suggests the minister does a hands-on in a busy hospital so he can see first-hand the imploding crisis in health."

Another fed-up nurse says "we are burnt out, tired of picking up shifts… unbelievable, unvalued, unheard. 35 years nursing, signed up to serve, lifetime Labour voter, now furious with how we are treated by narcissistic, entitled, EGOTISTICAL politicians. Leaving nursing now. Nurses were Labour voters until now, you are losing a big voting group."

Perhaps it’s that message that will get through. So far the Health Minister, the Immigration Minister, and the Prime Minister insist on ignoring our healthcare workers, our nurses. Perhaps if they know how much it’s going to hurt them at the polls, they might start paying attention.

Listen to Tova O'Brien's full editorial above.

You can also download the full interview on the Tova podcast, and listen on the go. Check it out on the rova app or wherever you get your podcasts.