The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) is pressing political parties for plans to address the nurse shortfall, emphasising the need for free training and greater Māori and Pasifika representation in the profession.
“At least 4000 nurses are needed tomorrow,” NZNO kaiwhakahaere, Kerri Nuku says.
Of that shortfall, Nuku says, there’s an even more pressing need for Māori and Pasifika nurses, midwives, and healthcare assistants amid underutilisation of the healthcare system by minority ethnicities.
“We have a health system based on western models from which many Māori and Pasifika people feel culturally alienated. This means they are much less likely to seek healthcare late, or not at all,” Nuku says.
“That’s a tragedy but denying Māori and Pasifika culturally appropriate care also puts a greater strain on the health system’s resources through longer than necessary treatment and longer hospital stays,” she says.
“Those are resources that could be used to fund more beds or pay wages for more nurses,” Nuku says.
Shortage of Māori, Pacifika
Despite Māori comprising 17.4 percent of the population, they make up only 7 percent of the nursing workforce according to Nursing Council stats. Similarly, Pasifika, who constitute 8 percent of the population, represent only 4 percent of nurses.
Nuku says a focus on Māori and Pasifika recruitment will promote culturally appropriate care, which will increase Māori and Pasifika early uptake with health services, and that’s not a ‘nice to have’, but a Crown obligation.
“Upholding te Tiriti o Waitangi firmly across the health system is part of the obligation for Māori to have self-determination over their own health and wellbeing and to achieve equitable health outcomes. Pasifika are also entitled to culturally appropriate care,” she adds.
“We cannot achieve these things without more Māori and Pasifika nurses.”
Financial hardship faced by Māori and Pasifika students is the root cause of low graduation rates according to Nuku. A significant number of students drop out by the third year of study, she says.
Some 25 percent of nursing students drop out overall, mostly due to financial hardship, but the figure is worse for Māori and Pasifika, with a 33 percent and 37 percent dropout rate for each.
Dropout figures would fall
“One way of attracting nursing students would be funded free training for them, and to have their work placements paid,” Nuku says.
“Dropout figures would fall and the number of new nurses would rise more quickly over time,” she says.
It’s a solution that has a precedent in government-sponsored trade apprenticeships, Nuku says.
“We do this for much-needed trade apprentices, so why not for nurses?”
“Surely that’s a policy gap any political party with a modicum of courage could grab!” she says.
Nuku says the sector is in such a dire state she’s challenging political parties to acknowledge the problem in the lead-up to October’s election and also say how they’ll address it.
Laying down the wero
“These are real problems and I want to know just what each party intends to do,” Nuku says.
“I would love to hear more from political parties about just how they will find the courage to fund more nurses more quickly, particularly Māori and Pasifika.”