Hospital investment needs to be matched with staffing investment

Published: December 16, 2021

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists Toi Mata Hauora says boosting hospital capacity and upgrading some facilities represents a much-needed catch-up in the country’s Covid preparedness, but the same priority must be given to critical understaffing.

The Government has announced that 24 hospitals will receive upgrades to improve care and isolation of patients, along with an increase in ICU capacity.

“The Covid crisis has shone a very hard light on a public health system which has endured year upon year of underfunding, under resourcing, and undervaluing of staff,” says ASMS President Dr Julian Vyas.

Clinicians have repeatedly raised red flags about New Zealand’s lack of preparedness to deal with endemic Covid, both in terms of ICU capacity and poor facilities.

Dr Vyas says there is no doubt that those working on the frontline will welcome the extra capacity along with the improvements to isolation management and proper ventilation systems.

However, he warns adequate staffing is what underpins the system.

In Southland for example, there are six ICU beds, but they can only cater for one patient due to lack of staffing.

“Our doctors and nurses are stretched dealing with busy wards and emergency departments, while at the same time juggling entrenched staffing shortages, which makes their work unsafe, results in reduced access to care for patients, and leads to burnout,” says Dr Vyas.

He says they are also being asked to catch up on the backlog of routine surgeries and medical treatments which have been delayed by Covid lockdowns.

“Adding much needed hospital bed capacity and making improvements to the system is heartening but let’s not forget the people who support that,” Dr Vyas says.

With the demand for health services projected to increase at higher rates than the health workforce can keep up with in the next ten years, ASMS is calling on the Government and the new Health NZ to act urgently and commit to proper workforce planning.

Dr Vyas says, “the longer the Government waits to act on ensuring proper recruitment and retention of staff in our hospitals and health services, the harder the fix will be.”