Auckland Hospital staff say they are having to “paper over the cracks” as our healthcare system struggles with an ever-increasing population.
At an event highlighting issues around healthcare underfunding held at Auckland Hospital on Sunday, people heard of a maternity care system that’s down 22 midwives and mental health workers buckling under an impossible workload.
“All we can do,” says Andy Colwell, a social worker and PSA delegate,” is try to keep people out of hospital. There is massive pressure on beds for acute cases all the time. I’d say you have to be pretty unwell to get into hospital these days.”
He says their workload has grown massively since 2010, mostly because of Auckland’s growing population. “We’ve always had people with mental health issues, it’s just that there are so many more of them now and it’s across the board from mild to severe.”
The problem, he says, is staffing levels that don’t come close to matching the workload meaning social workers are now “running from one person to the other trying to paper over the cracks.” It’s a growing problem that will inevitably spill out into the wider community: “We are seeing increasing numbers of very vulnerable people with severe illnesses in the community, they are a risk to themselves and others and often live in unregulated boarding houses where they are at risk of drug problems and violence. We want to do more to help but there just isn’t the time.”
At the same time, expectant mothers are being put on hold because they are down 22 (full time equivalent) midwives.
“We’re short of beds as well,’’ says Kay McRae, a theatre nurse at Auckland Hospital’s maternity unit, “but we had to close one pod because we don’t have the midwives to staff it. It means we are having to shuffle pregnant women around in the middle of the night, and then there’s pressure to get them to go home as soon as possible after the birth.”
The pressure created by a shortage of nurses has led to six recent departures from McRae’s unit, some to Australia where they can make more money and others because they couldn’t deal with the workload. For her part, McRae starts at 8am and usually finds herself working until 11pm while also being on call at all times: “And I’m almost 60, I don’t want to be doing this for much longer.”
Cowell and McRae agree with the findings of a study published last week in the New Zealand Medical Journal that found at least one in four adults can’t get the primary health care they require while 9 per cent fail to obtain secondary health care – such as a referral to see a medical specialist.
A nationwide healthcare funding awareness campaign, Yes We Care, is calling for an independent survey to accurately measure unmet health needs nationally, and has invited patients and people working in health to share their stories on the organisations website at: www.yeswecare.nz/share-your-story