OPINION: As A Patient, Nurses Deserve Better

Photo by Derek Finch on Unsplash

I’ve been in and out of Wellington Regional Hospital countless times for chronic pain and flare-ups related to endometriosis. As someone who has faced the health system recently, I support the nurses’ strike. From a patient’s perspective, nurses deserve better working conditions and higher pay; I support them walking out of their jobs in order to achieve that if that’s what it has to come to.

The threat of a strike can often be enough to warrant higher pay or better working conditions, as it shows the dissatisfaction of those working in the healthcare industry. Currently, strike action has been called off but was aiming to go ahead next month. Health Minister Andrew Little has declined to comment on how transformational the deal was, but it must’ve been enough to prevent further nurse strikes.

They asked for a 17% pay increase.

I went to the Emergency Department a few weeks ago for debilitating pain from an ovarian cyst rupture. I was in the waiting room for hours surrounded by others in various states of agony; painkillers and the hospital’s free coffee kept me going. The collective stress in the room, from both patients and workers, was palpable.

Every day I’ve spent at the hospital seems to be filled with the same extreme level of tension, there is never a ‘quiet day’ for staff at Wellington Regional Hospital. It seems to always have a certain degree of chaos, staff are often in a hurried scramble to help, with patients crying and young children screaming in agony at hour-long wait times. This is too much for the already stressed staff to endure.

Nurses face harsh working conditions on every shift, having to work long hours in overloaded hospitals and understaffed care centres. The reality is that there aren’t enough staff members on shift at a time, meaning nurses who are working are becoming burnt out and stressed every time they walk through the hospital doors. This issue will continue to worsen if the low pay nurses receive isn’t dealt with by the government, as people will not want to go into healthcare as a profession if it isn’t valued, exacerbating the problem at hand.

I don’t blame overcrowded waiting rooms on patients or nurses, I blame it on arduous working conditions, burnout, and low pay despite hard work. Since Labour came into power in 2017, the amount of nursing students each year has declined. The Prime Minister has claimed that the Government were unable to give nurses the 17% pay increase they have campaigned for — instead, they were offered an increase of a mere 1.38% last week, less than the rate of inflation.

Many are worried that nurses working in New Zealand will move to Australia in search of higher pay and, ultimately, respect. I wouldn’t be surprised — this is exactly what nurses deserve and exactly what they are not receiving in New Zealand.

Queensland in particular has advertised for New Zealand nurses seeking higher pay to move to the state. The starting salary for nurses in Australia is $9,000 NZD more than in New Zealand — recognition and support for the demanding job of nursing comes with this increased paycheck.

Healthcare workers need to be valued — my various experiences in Wellington Regional Hospital prove that they are not. I’ve personally witnessed nurses being shouted at and hospital staff receiving abuse, putting up with that alongside a stressful healthcare job is simply not feasible.

The rise of the COVID-19 pandemic last year had us societally deeming healthcare workers essential, we praised nurses as ‘healthcare heroes,’ fighting to keep our community healthy in uncertain times. This praise seems to be missing in 2021.

I’ve received their support countless times, and now, we need to return the favour. Nurses have saved my life, mitigated my chronic pain, and given me hope and care. Many of us can safely say that we wouldn’t be here today without the ongoing support of those at the forefront of the healthcare system — I am one of those people.

Better working conditions and higher pay should’ve come with the calls of being deemed ‘essential,’ but this is yet to be seen. Currently, nurses are given empty, meaningless words with no tangible support.

There’s no use being called a healthcare hero if the paycheck you receive doesn’t reflect that.

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Mum told me not to talk about politics online. Former Youth MP, current Victoria University student, journalist for Tearaway Magazine and Salient Magazine.

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Azaria Howell

Azaria Howell

Mum told me not to talk about politics online. Former Youth MP, current Victoria University student, journalist for Tearaway Magazine and Salient Magazine.

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