Auckland, January 22, 2020
The National Office of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) has warned of a looming crisis in the Primary Health Care Sector if the salaries of registered nurses is not increased to the same levels as their District Health Board (DHB) counterparts.
The Wellington based Association said that registered nurses at General Practices (GPs) and Accident and Medical Centres (A & MCs) have threatened to leave the sector and go elsewhere.
NZNO has been negotiating the Primary Health Care Multi Collective Agreement (PHC MECA), which covers more than 3400 nurses, medical receptionists and administrators in about 500 GPs and A & MCs.
The Association’s Industrial Advisor Chris Wilson said that an acceptable offer for members has not been possible so far because of the funding shortage.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has designated 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife.
A recent NZNO survey found that 70% of its members employed at GPs and A &MC were considering leaving the sector because of higher pay elsewhere, including at services run by DHBs.
This will compound the existing problem of finding new nurses or retaining existing staff.
Ms Wilson said that a serious drop in practice and registered nurses would be inevitable unless things change.
This will make healthcare much harder to access for people in New Zealand, she said.
“Nurses at these workplaces provide services such as vaccinations, patient care programmes and triage at point of entry. They also give medical or health advice, which often reduces hospital admissions. Fewer nurses will mean that these services become either less available or more expensive, with consequences for health and extra demands on the health budget,” Ms Wilson said.
Sector funding comes through the Vote Health Budget and is allocated to GPs and other services via the DHBs and Primary Health Organisations (PHOs).
Ms Wilson said that while DHBs are paying their own nurses at higher rates negotiated in the DHB/NZNO MECA, they are not passing on sufficient funding to ensure that primary health care nurses are paid the same.
Primary health nursing is just as complex as nursing in DHBs, yet it is being significantly undervalued by this obvious pay parity issue, she said.
The impending issue
“As of May this year, an experienced nurse covered by the PHC MECA will be paid 10% less than an experienced nurse in a DHB. That is a huge difference and our survey respondents say this has significant impact on their lives, including working extra shifts to make ends meet, foregoing holidays and family time, and not being able to afford a house,” Ms Wilson said.
She said that NZNO members are concerned about what this means for their communities and they want them to know of the impending issue.
They will be asking funding decision makers to recognise the value of these primary health care nurses by addressing the salary issue. They are hopeful funders will acknowledge the value of this investment in community health when NZNO returns to bargaining next week, she said.
“The Government and the DHBs need to understand that underfunding the Primary Health Care Sector is just robbing Peter to pay Paul. Not funding services that keep people well just costs everybody more in the long run, and increases suffering and inequities,” Ms Wilson said.