A petition calling for safer staffing and better pay for nurses has taken off as the social media campaign #hearourvoices prepares to march on parliament on International Nurses Day.

The petition launched last night by ‘Nurse Florence’ – the two nurses who founded the snowballing social media page New Zealand, please hear our voice – had already topped 5000 signatures by 10am this morning.  The Facebook group –launched on March 4 by the new graduate and enrolled nurse pair to give a voice to struggling and frustrated nurses – has now grown to 37,000 plus members.

The pair told Nursing Review that the support from the social media group members was overwhelming for a national march on Saturday May 12.  One march is planned for Wellington to present the petition and others are also in planning stages for elsewhere in the country as the social media movement seeks to get public backing and support for a growing groundswell of nurses’ expressing their struggles and frustration with the impact of current working conditions and pay on their ability to provide safe patient care.

“We hope we are doing Nurse Florence Nightingale proud by having these marches on a day that celebrates this amazing woman’s birthday, International Nurses Day, Saturday May 12,” ‘Nurse Florence’ posted to members on the site.

The online petition: “Hear our voice” – We need safer staffing and working conditions for New Zealand Nurses was launched last night and addressed to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Health Minister David Clark as well as Green Party co-leader James Shaw and NZ First leader and deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters.

Around 27,000 nurses, midwives and healthcare assistant members of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation are now into their second week of three weeks of voting over whether to accept a revised pay offer from the 20 DHBs, knowing the likely next step if they reject the deal is a strike ballot.

‘Nurse Florence’ told Nursing Review that it was very much aware of the growing frustration amongst nurses – particularly nurses that are members of NZNO.

“We are receiving posts, comments and messages that reflect a growing dissatisfaction amongst the members about the lack of nurses being represented in main stream media, especially when the teacher’s union has been so visible throughout their campaign for fair pay.”

They stressed that their social media group was for all nurses and not just NZNO members covered by the DHB MECA.

“However, many members of New Zealand, hear our voice group are wanting to be heard by their union,” said the pair. “Their stories highlight a widespread problem of unsafe workloads, missed breaks, a severe shortage of staff and low wages, all of which are issues that fall under the jurisdiction of the union. We are hoping the union is hearing these stories and will acknowledge the bravery of the group members for sharing their heart felt stories with the public.”

NZNO constrained by Good Faith code

NZNO pointed out that last year it had also collected and shared with MPs and media  some of the 500 anonymous stories that members had sent in during a membership survey, which had 2,890 respondents, held as part of its Shout Out for Health campaign for better health funding.  The excerpts of those In their Own Words stories about how health underfunding was affecting their workplaces, colleagues and patients can be read here.

Memo Musa, the CEO of NZNO, said in a written statement that NZNO was currently constrained in how it interacted with the media during the MECA bargaining process. “NZNO is different to the teachers unions because we are an essential service and we are bound by a Code of Good Faith under the Employment Relations Act. We must not do anything that could be construed as promoting a breakdown in bargaining.”

He added that NZNO  in the lead-up to last year’s election run the long and effective  Shout Out for Health campaign that had gained national media coverage and many local papers reported on campaign rallies and events. “We gained 6,000 signatures to the open letter to the government Shouting Out for Health. We were fully part of the Yes We Care joint campaign with the PSA and regional media and national media was achieved nationwide.”

NZNO also delivered a 15,000 signature petition to the DHBs in late February in support of its call for a better pay deal for nurses, midwives and health care assistants.

The ‘Nurse Florence’ petition says nurses are working in unsafe environments and with inadequate staffing levels – particularly in mental health, medical/surgical wards and the community and aged care settings.

“A lack of nurses means that patients may not receive the care they need, putting nurses at risk of making an error due to the workload pressure and puts nurses at higher risk of assault from unwell patients when there are not enough of them on the wards or to visit patients in pairs in the community,” says the petition.

“Nurses have already been assaulted in some fields: some have even received career-ending brain damage, broken bones, damaged backs and PTSD. Some nurses have shared accounts of assault in their stories, injury,  expressing the fear and anxiety they feel going into work each day, telling us that managers minimise these incidents, and the staffing crisis.”

The petition says solutions include pay that helps attract and retain staff so more experienced nurses are not lost from the profession.  Plus more access to security guards, changing management culture, addressing bullying and acknowledging nurses’ right to a safe working environment.

More information on the petition and planned marches can be found on the New Zealand, please hear our voice Facebook page.


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