AFTER 25 years working as a nurse at three major hospitals, perioperative nurse Gail Thomas is at the top of her salary grade and cannot be paid more.

“I get $32 an hour and I cannot earn more unless I go into management, which is not why I chose to go into nursing.”

Ms Thomas and her nurse colleagues at Whakatane Hospital are among thousands of nurses countrywide who have been holding protests to highlight the issues facing nurses.

They have rejected a 2 percent increase from the Government, and say they are overworked and understaffed.

Almost 300 Whakatane Hospital nurses, healthcare assistants and orderlies brought these issues to the public’s attention on Friday when they held rallies, supported by doctors, other staff and members of the public, outside the hospital.

This week they will be voting on whether to go on strike for two days.

“For me a major concern is that newly qualified nurses are not being offered work,” said Ms Thomas.

“Some are finding it very difficult to find nursing positions and are leaving to go overseas.”

Ms Thomas said many were leaving for Australia, where pay was higher and workloads better managed.

“Our staff in the perioperative unit are getting on. There is no one under 40, and most are 50 to 65. There is going to be a crisis because of young nurses not getting jobs and going to Australia.”

Kayla O’Connell graduated last year with a three-year degree in nursing expecting to find a position immediately in Tauranga where she lived.

When that didn’t happen, she was grateful to be offered a position in Whakatane.

“Sixty nurses graduated, only 25 to 30 got positions in Tauranga.”

Some of her friends waited six months for a placement out of town.

“It is awful to think you are going into a course that offers job security, but then you get to your third year and that is not the case.”

Ms O’Connell said she would consider leaving for Australia.

“Why wouldn’t you? You have to live on this wage and save for a house and think about the future.”

Funding for new positions was the biggest obstacle.

“You can’t say we don’t need them, when a vacancy stays open everyone works overtime,” said Ms Thomas.

Nurses also have the support of doctors.

“We work with them all the time and we see how hard they work. Even when they are understaffed, they press on and take it on the chin and always support the junior doctors,” said junior doctor Ralston d’Souza.

Twin’s life saved by nurse

SAVED: Anne Looney, left, says a renal nurse saved her life when she had kidney failure. She and twin Mary Carpenter support nurses’ call for better pay.  D6872-15

SIXTY-EIGHT-YEAR-OLD twins Anne Looney and Mary

Carpenter said if it wasn’t for a renal unit nurse at

Whakatane Hospital one of them would be dead.

Ms Looney said renal nurse Shane Garner saved her life.

The pair came from Opotiki on Friday to support the nurses action.

“Two years ago I had a kidney transplant, and without that I would be dead,” she said.

“My kidneys failed two years ago and I was referred to the Whakatane renal unit. Shane took me on and he just fought for me to have a transplant.

“Shane visited me, he organised dialysis for me.

“I wasn’t going to live, I was given two years. And now I am as well as. I am on no medications.

“Without the support of the nursing staff, all the nurses, I wouldn’t be here.

“Age was a concern, but Shane said it should not be a concern and it was unethical if they don’t accept me and get me into the system to do the operation.”

Ms Thomas said she was able to get a kidney off her twin sister.

“We came over from Opotiki to support the nurses we feel are not paid enough for the work they do.”

Meth takes its toll

MENTAL health nurses face a unique set of issues.

Two nurses who did not wish to be named told the Beacon they were facing an increasing patient load of drug-induced patients, mainly methamphetamine cases.

“A high percentage of presentations to the ward tend to be drug-induced.

“There are unpredictable outcomes that are not always pleasant for the nursing staff and doctors. We are at risk of getting assaulted and we are sworn at all the time.

“We should be getting paid the same as the police or prison wardens. We do the same work, just don’t have the same powers.”

Push for pay to match skills

NZEI nurse representative Angela Neil said nurses were paid on a scale from one to five.

“You can’t go anywhere from there, even with all the experience and skills in the world, including a masters degree and post-graduate diploma”.

Ms Neil said there was a huge push by nurses for pay to match skills and experience.

Nurses today had to be far more skilled and knowledgeable than 20 years ago. They were dealing with much more complex cases and surgery.

“People expect operations, such as knee and hip replacments that they wouldn’t have had even 20 years ago. They expect elective surgery. Even cancer treatments are more complex and nurses need to know all about these … and the equipment too.

“District health boards are concerned only about meeting targets and getting the flow of patients through.”

Surgical unit nurse Julia Molesworth agreed. “Nurses aren’t paid fairly, it doesn’t recognise our skills.”

kathy.forsyth@whakatanebeacon.co.nz