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Nurses and health boards meet in Wellington for mediation on strike plan

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The New Zealand Nurses’ Organisation and District Health Boards met in Wellington today for mediation to try and settle the current employment negotiations.

The talks have adjourned for the day.

DHBs will be working on a response over the weekend before reconvening with the NZNO and the mediator on Monday.

The NZNO and DHBs are focused on trying to reach a settlement and will be making no further comment until after mediation has concluded.

News from Capital and Coast District Health Board – June 21
Official notice has been received that nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants who are members of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) will undertake strike action in July. The strike action will be in the form of a complete withdrawal of labour, from all DHBs around the country, for 24 hours from 7am on 5 July. Notice for a second 24-hour strike from 7am on 12 July is expected next week.

“Patient safety and wellbeing remains our highest priority and focus during this time,” said Hospital & Healthcare Services general manager Chris Lowry.

“However – like all DHBs – we will experience staffing gaps and will need to prioritise essential and acute services over others. We will also be assessing our inpatients to see whether it is clinically appropriate to discharge them. If not, they will remain in hospital.”

Non-essential services – including outpatient appointments, and elective and non-urgent surgery – will be deferred. Patients can expect to hear from CCDHB by 27 June about whether they are affected.

“The Emergency Department (ED) at Wellington Regional Hospital will remain open during the strike, and people can rest assured that anyone who requires urgent and life-saving care will receive it.”

People are, however, asked to remember that ED is for emergencies only. People with non-urgent injuries or illnesses should see their GP or after-hours service in the first instance.

Wellington Regional Hospital’s delivery suite and maternity ward will remain open.

“If you are booked for birth at Kenepuru Community Hospital or the Kapiti Health Centre, or are in labour on a strike day, contact your midwife early as you will need to travel to Wellington.

“Your lead maternity carer has been informed of what services are available, and we also have a number of midwives who are not NZNO members and will be working during the strike action.”

The CCDHB website has information about how to find a GP or an after-hours service.

Patients uncertain about their appointments or procedures should wait to be contacted, or call (04) 806 0992 from 8am-8pm or 0508 4 CCDHB (0508 4 22342) after hours. Anyone unsure about whether they need ED care should contact their GP or call Healthline (0800 611 116) for free advice from a registered nurse.

Report from RNZ – June 18
There is no more money in the government kitty for nurses but what’s available could be restructured, Health Minister David Clark says. Nationwide nursing strikes look likely after nurses rejected an improved pay offer from District Health Boards (DHBs).

The DHBs’ latest offer included pay increases of between nine and 15 percent to be rolled out over 15 to 18 months. It’s nearly double the previous offer from DHBs in February and is worth more than half a billion dollars.

David Clark told Checkpoint it was “really disappointing” the nurses had rejected the latest deal, saying it was the largest offer to nurses in over a decade. However, he was impressed with the way nurses and the DHBs were working together and he still hoped a solution could be found to avoid industrial action.

“I am slightly encouraged that both the nurses organisation and the DHB are publicly saying that they will do everything they can to avoid strike action – facilitation or mediation – but it’s a struggle to know exactly what would turn that around. At this point, I think the DHB would be all ears to hear if there is a different way that that package can be structured to meet nurses’ needs.”

He said regardless of the result of bargaining, the government had committed to funding an extra 500 nurses – a two percent increase in nursing numbers.

Earlier today, Dr Clark said the government had come up with the best deal it could.

“We put an extra quarter of a billion in beyond the original offer, which was already more generous than the average offer under the previous government,” he said. “I’m disappointed, but I’m hopeful a way through can be found.”

He rejected the assertion that nurses had an unrealistic hope that was not being fulfilled.

“Expectations are high and I don’t blame people for being hopeful, but we’ve been really clear and put our best offer out there in terms of the DHBs and the funding the government has put out,” said Dr Clark. “People have to know that this is the money that’s available – and that’s the situation we’re in.”

DHB spokeswoman Helen Mason said they would do everything they could to avoid strike action but reiterated there was no more money available for negotiations.

“It’s a very good offer, it’s actually an excellent offer…there won’t be more money on the table.”

Nurses have previously voted in favour of two 24-hour strikes to take place in July if they cannot reach an agreement with DHBs on a pay-offer.

The Nurses Organisation said emergency mediation meetings would now take place.