Doctors say delays in working hour negotiations puts patients at risks

By Taiha Molyneux

The New Zealand Resident Doctors Association (NZRDA) is urging District Health Boards to address the long hours doctors are required to work before a patient or doctor is seriously injured. Mediation between the two groups over providing safer working hours has stalled again and the NZRDA claims the longer the delay the greater the risk.

The NZRDA says doctors working in public hospitals around the country are dealing with serious fatigue as a result of their working hours and they're concerned that patients are suffering as a result.

New Zealand Resident Doctors Association’s National Secretary Deborah Powell says, “We can work up to 12 days in a row anywhere up to 10-16 hours during that 12 day stretch The doctors are just exhausted they are getting fatigued and they are making mistakes and the residents have just said enough is enough we can’t continue to work like this.”

Hawkes Bay Hospital’s General Surgical Registrar Kapo Manahi says, “The last thing our people need is a doctor who’s tried and is exhausted and is, therefore, less empathetic if any and is liable to be making errors.”

Patients aren't the only ones at risk. According to research conducted by the NZRDA, over 1000 doctors outlined the physical and mental impact the hours they work are having on them.

“I myself have driven home after 16-18 hours being on a long day and got pulled over by the police and I asked why they pulled me over and they thought I had been drinking and driving the way I was driving,” says Manahi.

“One of the residents went to find his colleague and found him fast asleep on the lap of a patient he was admitting and the patient said to his colleague, please don’t wake him he’s clearly too tired we are meant to be looking after the patients, not the other way around,” says Powell.

The NZRDA says district health boards have been aware of these issues for some time and know how to fix the problem, but they are still waiting on a sound resolution to address the problem nationally. 

Powell says, “We would need another 145 doctors nationally we've worked that figure out with the employers so it’s an agreed figure but it costs money to employ doctors so that’s where the sticking point is.”

A full agreement and resolution are yet to be met. Discussions have been halted until September 23.

UPDATE: Statement from District Health Boards

A statement issued by Julie Patterson Lead CEO for the 20 DHBs Workforce and Employment Relations Programme and CEO of Whanganui DHB claims the stall in negotiations was due to the Unions "intransigence" not an unwillingness on behalf of the DHBs to address the issue.

In the statement Patterson says, "Dr Powell and her Union came to mediation with a fixed view and closed mind in regard to reviewing RMO rosters. It is now clear that Dr Powell has no intention of resiling from her industrial campaign aimed at undermining public confidence in our health service."

"Whilst New Zealand offers some of the best working working hours in the world for doctors, there is still a need, in some services to reduce the hours they work. The DHBs have been progressively addressing the issue in a way that builds on the quality services provided to patients and maintains the world class training that RMOs receives. By the Unions own admission the DHBs have thus far dealt with 80 of the 144 rosters where the union has raised a concern."

"The DHB's want to work with our RMOs to ensure they work in a safe and fair environment so they can deliver excellent service to their patients and enhance their learning opportunities. This continues to be the DHBs objective in bargaining. The Union contention that DHBs are refusing to address the hour's doctors work is deliberately misleading.

The full statement can be read here