The Resident Doctors’ Association and District Health Board bargaining teams will return to mediation on Thursday 24th January in Auckland ahead of the planned 48-hour strike on 29th and 30th January, the second period of industrial action by resident doctors this month.

“Any realistic opportunity to resolve this dispute ahead of next week’s strike is something we must pursue,” says NZRDA Senior Advocate David Munro. “We are very grateful for the growing public support for Resident Doctors to hold on to hard-won safety provisions in their collective agreement. But at the same time we are mindful of the price being paid by patients because of the DHBs’ intransigence.”

If mediation is unsuccessful and next week’s strike goes ahead there is likely to be even greater disruption as doctors who have recently joined the RDA who will now be participating in the second strike.

“Every indicator is towards strengthening determination to win this dispute,” says Munro. “The RMOs are not backing down and the key issues are now well understood by the public.  With New Zealanders now returning from the holiday break we expect even more pressure on DHBs to abandon their irresponsible and unreasonable approach.”

However, the DHBs have strongly disputed claims made by the association about bargaining discussions.

DHB spokesman Dr Peter Bramley said DHBs want to ensure RMOs are properly involved in decisions about their rosters and work placements.

“It is simply untrue for the RDA to claim that DHBs want to move RMOs around the country at will.

“Rosters across multiple hospitals in non-urban areas and any combined duty and on call period of more than 16 consecutive hours currently requires the approval of the RDA. DHBs would prefer that affected employees make decisions about these rosters locally, rather than the union.

“DHBs have not requested any change to the provision that a duty shift shall not exceed 16 consecutive hours.”

The impact of working long shifts was a key driver in the DHBs desire to introduce more flexible rostering, with consultation and involvement of local clinicians and hospital managers, Dr Bramley said.

“DHBs are committed to being good employers supporting safe care and safe working conditions,” he said.

The ongoing dispute and resulting strike action is concerning the Medical Council of New Zealand, prompting chair Mr Andrew Connolly to send a letter to the RDA and the DHBs encouraging parties to find a cooperative mechanism to prioritise safe staffing and avoid further strike action. The Council is concerned that continued industrial action may ultimately threaten aspects of public health and safety.

“There is no doubt that safe staffing is a vital foundation of safe patient care. I doubt either party wishes to challenge that view,” writes Connolly. “I would ask both parties to urgently develop a cooperative mechanism to make real progress on safe staffing, but in an environment that allows the Union membership to avoid strike action. I appreciate there are related issues of significant disagreement such as how roster changes are approved and introduced, but I would suggest the fundamental issue of safe staffing should be prioritised.”

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