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Health NZ denies a hiring freeze has been ordered

Vaseline 3 months ago

Health New Zealand denies its directives to managers to review roles is a hiring freeze, saying it is still recruiting to fill shortages.

The agency has written to health unions outlining guidelines it has issued to hospitals, including banning duplication of shifts, closing some vacancies and forcing staff to take advantage of furlough.

Te Whatu Ora said it was pushing the measures because it could not enter the new financial year with a deficit as it was now.

The guidelines for a review of unfilled positions ask managers to “consider their permanent removal as part of budget processes”, but chief executive Margie Apa said this was not a hiring freeze.

“Especially if you’ve had positions that have been vacant for (several months) and you’ve been able to function as a service company, I think it’s reasonable for leaders to consider whether they need that role or whether they’re doing the job in the same way that they they might have hired when they thought they needed that role,” Apa said.

Health Minister Shane Reti said such decisions were the responsibility of Health NZ, not the government.

In a statement, he said this is not a hiring freeze on doctors or nurses at Health NZ and the guidance would not take resources away from the frontline.

In response, Labor Health spokesperson Ayesha Verrall said this was a “stupid statement”.

“I mean it has been absolutely proven not to be true by the fact that Te Whatu Ora has sent a letter saying some features will be reviewed and some will be scrapped.”

She believed the guidelines suggested they were cuts to frontline roles.

“We still have big gaps in medical positions, especially in medical specialist positions. Those people are difficult to recruit, it takes a long time,” Verrall told Morning Report.

“And the fact that they have not been filled for a while does not justify their removal. Sometimes they are even necessary because a service is on the edge of sustainability.”

There was also a lack of transparency about how many jobs this guidance would affect, she said.

“They haven’t considered that they could jeopardize the ability to fill these roles by saying we’re scrapping them or reviewing them and slowing down the whole process, and that could have catastrophic consequences for small services that rely on these specialist skills .”

Who will it affect?

Apa told Morning Report that they were asking managers to consider this “guidance,” not this one, in areas where they were fully staffed and had capacity.

“In those areas where they are looking to staff, and they are meeting their full establishment, it is reasonable, and we have asked leaders to think about how they are staffing.

“We are doing just that and are asking leaders to ensure that they ensure that people are taking leave and breaks… and ensuring that they return to some of our previous practices (pre-Covid) of managing staff and rosters.”

They expected managers to make their judgments depending on the service, Apa said.

Union questions why managers are reminded of jobs

But Anne Daniels, president of the Nurses Organization, questioned why experienced managers should be reminded of their jobs.

“This is about putting pressure to actually reduce costs… we also know that funding for the healthcare system is still a reality, it is still not funded to actually realize the ambitions of the Pae Ora Act, which means prevention instead of cure. So this isn’t going to help in any way, shape or form.

“It’s a cut, no matter how many people protest that it isn’t. This is definitely a broken promise.”

She personally did not know of any department that was not understaffed, and she believed the guidance would also exacerbate patient care problems.

While Apa acknowledged there were still gaps in specialist areas such as mental health, emergency and intensive care, it said they were still recruiting for those areas and had made a net recruitment of an additional 2,493 nurses.