Neil Warrington: Why nurses are bewildered by the DHB pay offer


I am an Auckland-based registered nurse working with older adults. I’ve been in the same role in the same ward for the past 20 years. I know and love my patients and I like to think that’s mutual.

Having the chance to help people, especially older adults, is why I became a nurse. I love that I make a difference in people’s lives, but right now I’m feeling pretty flat, demoralised and let down – and so are most of my colleagues across the country.

Every few years we district health board (DHB) members of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation negotiate a renewed multiemployer collective agreement (MECA) with our employers. We have recently received our first offer from the DHBs in the current round of negotiations and it is way beyond disappointing.

In recognition of the pressure I face every day to provide the care my elderly patients deserve – pressure caused mostly by chronic and persistent understaffing – I have been offered a pay rise of 1.38 per cent (just under the rate of inflation) and very little else.

I am bewildered why.

Every day I rush from patient to patient to paperwork, worried I’ve forgotten something important or that I’ve left a poor person suffering. And I go home at the end of my shift feeling sad and demoralised because I haven’t been able to provide a high enough level of care.

Other nurses nationwide are faring the same or even worse. Patient loads and ratios have risen, workloads have worsened and patient needs are growing more complex.

Meanwhile the number of nurses on the ground and in the wards is declining because they can no longer endure the pressure, long hours and mental fatigue.

A lot of nurses are working extra shifts to fill in when staffing is inadequate because they either desperately need more income or feel pressure not to let their workmates down.

But the resulting weariness and stress just ends up putting themselves and their patients at greater risk.

I look forward to my weekends but, by the time they roll around, I’m so tired that all I can find time for is resting. But I don’t have any spare money anyway. I groan outwardly when I hear a funny noise in the car and inwardly when a group of friends wants to go out for dinner.

One of my colleagues has worked really hard and now has enough for a house deposit, but she can’t get a loan because her salary wouldn’t accommodate a mortgage. That’s completely bonkers, but that’s nursing.

Many people where I work have families and are really struggling to pay for basic stuff like school uniforms, petrol and parking. Why are the professionals who step up and risk their lives in the fight against Covid treated this way?

Nurses are qualified professionals, who have an incredible amount of responsibility, and we have proven our value repeatedly throughout the pandemic response. Why it is so hard to get an offer that reflects our true value?

Most of the 30,000 of us under this MECA are being offered the same paltry pay rise, and the saddest thing is that it completely fails to acknowledge our value and will just mean more people leaving the profession at a time when they are needed most. Many of my colleagues are looking at moving overseas to work, especially now the borders with Australia are open again.

They believe they will be much better off over there.

I am bewildered as to why, in the middle of a nurse staffing crisis, this offer fails to enhance nursing or make the profession attractive in any way. No young person would look at the offer and think, yes, this is the job for me – and it’s this persistent lack of regard for safe staffing that hurts and disappoints us nurses the most.

• Neil Warrington is a Registered Nurse in Auckland.

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