The extra 500 nurses promised in the rejected offer is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to resolving the safe staffing crisis, says one registered nurse. This was first posted on Nurse Florence’s ‘New Zealand, please hear our voice’ social media forum.

I’ll never forget the day I witnessed unsafe staffing contributing to the loss of life.

I was in charge on a morning shift on a busy surgical ward with six of my own patients. I had a post-intensive care unit (ICU) patient who was still quite unwell. Because of his medical history, this gentleman had a caregiver with him 24/7. I checked on him first and while he was okay at that time, I thought he could still deteriorate so I decided I would check him again soon.

A short time later I was on my way back to his room when a doctor stopped me. His patient was wanting to self-discharge, but his blood results had just come back so abnormal that he could have lost consciousness at any moment and should have been in ICU.

Being the shift coordinator, I had to address this as I was ultimately responsible for all 30 patients on the ward. It was my registration on the line too, if something went wrong. The patient didn’t speak English so we were talking through his family and we couldn’t ascertain whether he was already confused.

I had to call around the department to find a nurse who spoke the same tongue and could neurologically assess him. When she arrived, I finally stole a minute to go back and check on my post-ICU patient.

I found him halfway to the bathroom, on the floor, having left his running nasogastric tube feed attached to the bed. By the time I found him he had feed coming out of his nose; he could have been on the floor for over an hour.

Unfortunately, he began to deteriorate rapidly and was transferred back to ICU. This poor gentleman never came back out, due to a fatal aspiration pneumonia.

My heart breaks knowing that a patient sustained fatal injuries while under my care, but I do know that I prioritised correctly that morning with the information that I had.

The patient’s night caregiver had left after my first check-in, without waiting for the day caregiver and without notifying me.

Nevertheless, this shift haunted me for quite some time. If I didn’t have to wear both my coordinator and bedside nurse ‘hats’, I would have definitely found him faster, which could have led to a more positive outcome.

As the NZNO has said, we are an evidence-based profession. Our job description is always evolving as research is published on the best way to do no harm by our patients.

Research conducted by our colleagues in Australia and California demonstrates that mandated nurse-to-patient ratios save lives and improve job satisfaction. So why are we having to fight so hard for this?

No pay rise will make me feel better about going to work and learning we are short staffed  – again – so have six patients each; and knowing that my patients are only going to get the bare minimum (and often sub-par) care.

No pay rise will make it okay that our patients are suffering and dying because there aren’t enough nurses.

Five hundred extra nurses for New Zealand just isn’t going to cut it. [See details of rejected offer here.]

To have a manageable, safe workload of 1:4 in an acute ward means that my ward would need an extra 2-3 nurses per shift. This would require over 10 nurses (at 0.8 of a full-time equivalent or FTE) to be hired. This is just one ward, in one hospital.

Enforced, safe nurse-to-patient ratios will come at a great cost to the district health boards and the Government – but it’s time to invest in the health and wellbeing of the people of New Zealand because we are well and truly in a crisis.

It’s time to show us that you actually do value the lives of the people you serve.

This was first published on the New Zealand, please hear our voice Facebook page – a nurse-founded page publishing stories from anonymous and named nurses with the aim of informing the public about current nursing issues and building support during the current safe staffing and pay claim campaign.


Click here for more background on the history of New Zealand nurse campaigns for nurse-to-patient ratios and safe staffing.



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