By: Imran Ali

Public hospitals in Northland are being forced to reschedule more than 150 outpatient appointments and elective surgeries as another round of industrial action by junior doctors looms.

As the four-day strike starting on April 15 coincides in the lead up to the Easter long weekend, the Northland District Health Board is urging people to seek alternative medical care such as their GP, local pharmacist or Healthline in non-urgent cases.

The New Zealand Resident Doctors’ Association (NZRDA) which represents junior doctors around the country last week gave notice of a fifth strike at all public hospitals except those run by the Canterbury DHB following the Christchurch shootings.

About 86 junior doctors working in Whangārei, Bay of Islands, Kaitaia and Dargaville hospitals are fighting the Northland DHB to preserve existing clauses in their employment agreements. They want safer working hours that will allow for more flexible rostering.

Northland DHB chief executive Dr Nick Chamberlain said senior doctors, locums and junior doctors not undertaking industrial action would be covering shifts during the strike.

“It is estimated that around 140 Northland DHB patients will have their outpatient appointments impacted by the strike and based on current planning a further 25-30 patients will require their elective surgery to be rescheduled.

He said all affected patients have been contacted individually.

“Patient safety is always our number one priority and we have undertaken extensive contingency planning to ensure patients are safe during this strike period.

“We are also carefully considering the on-going impacts for both patients and staff, given the number of strikes they have endured this year,” Dr Chamberlain said.

He said Northland DHB have had the 10-days-on-four-days-off roster junior doctors were following for more than 10 years, and each year they were being recognised in surveys by resident medical officers as one of the best DHB’s in New Zealand for looking after their junior doctors in that regard.

Hospital services in Northland would have reduced staffing levels, and coupled with the Easter holiday, would increase the load on teams, he said.

“If you have visitors coming for the Easter break, remind them to bring their medication and if they unwell encourage them to visit another time when they are well.

“If you live in rural Northland and can be transferred to your home hospital from Whangārei, we will aim to do this to alleviate extra pressure on Whangārei Hospital.

Dr Chamberlain said those with minor injuries or ailments should speak to their GP, local pharmacist or call Healthline on 0800 611 116.

However, he said Northland DHB did not wish to discourage anyone who has significant concern for their health from seeking help.

“Delaying acute care can have serious consequences, so please remember, always in an emergency call 111.”

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) has directed DHBs and NZRDA to another session of mediated bargaining today.

Source: NZ Herald

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