Opinion

Rachel Smalley: Labour is allergic to our health system

Opinion: Another day in our health system and still no movement on the nurse's issue; our health system needs another 4,000 nurses and the government will not fall in line with the likes of the Australians and the British and offer residency as an incentive to come here. So, the pay here is worse and we won't provide you with the certainty that New Zealand can become your home. Why would you come here?

Worse were the Prime Minister's comments yesterday. Jacinda Ardern's comments were uncharacteristically brutal and dismissive.  She said that if a nurse wasn't prepared to relocate to New Zealand and spend two years working here before we offered them residency then and I quote 'perhaps they don't want to be a nurse in New Zealand'.

Late last week the PM couldn't say how many nurses had taken up the offer of working here and waiting two years for residency. They have no idea. Our existing nurses and frontline workers have been left to carry the burden for us all. Who could blame them if they leave and go to Australia?

There is I believe a vacuous disconnect between the government and our health system. When was the last time you saw a member of the Labour government in, around or even outside a hospital? Usually, you'll see politicians meeting with health professionals, they'll engage with our health system for the photo opportunities, they'll be wrapped up in PPE and on a ward somewhere, but Labour is allergic to our health system. They'll use COVID as an excuse, but I doubt very much that you will see the Prime Minister anywhere near our hospitals before the next election.

The government has proudly stated to the outside world that we chose a 'health response' to COVID, but at what cost? 

There was a story that dropped last night on Stuff. 

New Zealand Women in Medicine (NZWIM) have surveyed doctors they collated more than 900 responses from doctors who were working across 30 different areas of medicine. And here is the response. Health professionals - senior members of our health system - say our health workforce is at risk of and I quote 'a catastrophic collapse'.

It was a sentiment echoed late last week when two very senior members of the health system also contacted me to say what is occurring in our health system at the moment is deeply, deeply concerning and both conversations echoed the concerns of this survey. They have never seen the health system like this before; it isn't at risk of collapsing. They both said it IS collapsing. They used terms like 'reckless governance' and were deeply concerned by the government's failure to engage. They feel the new Health NZ is being delivered to them, but the government has forgotten to engage with the sector, seek guidance, or provide direction along the way. 

The group that carried out the survey NZWIM have written to the Prime Minister, health ministers, associate health ministers, and leaders of Te Whatu Ora Health NZ and presented the feedback from 923 doctors from hospitals and GP clinics across the country. There's been no response. 

They speak of nurses who are burnt out, triaging patients who are so afraid that someone will die in the waiting room. 93.5 percent of those almost one thousand health workers surveyed said the system is in crisis. The government, as you know, does not accept that. 

And for the new graduates coming into the health system, senior doctors say it will break the spirit of many young doctors when they're faced with such extreme working conditions. 

One respondent who works in an emergency department said this... "I don't have the words to describe how awful work has become. I am yet to see an article that comes even close to reflecting the reality of what it feels like to work in health at the moment."

Now, I remind you of what the Prime Minister said yesterday. She said of migrant nurses.... "perhaps they don't want to be a nurse in New Zealand" if they're not prepared to work for two years before we offer them residency. 

And therein lies the disconnect. Good leaders know you have two ears and one mouth for a very good reason, and you need to use them proportionally you have to listen to the people you are governing. The entire nation's health depends on this. Our lives depend on it. 

It is entry-level leadership. Listen.