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New Zealand Hospital faces 'acute' shortage of mental health Nurses - News - Nurses Arena Forum

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New Zealand Hospital faces 'acute' shortage of mental health Nurses by katty : July 12, 2017, 06:21:19 AM
Christchurch's Hillmorton Hospital is asking nurses on the brink of burn out to work extra shifts as it faces an "acute" shortage of mental health staff.

An internal email leaked to Stuff said Canterbury specialist mental health services had an "acute shortage of inpatient nursing staff" with 45.7 vacancies out the 537 nursing roles needed.

The email asked nurses to work extra shifts and said 12 temporary hospital aides would start in August.

Mental health nurses at Hillmorton Hospital, speaking anonymously, said the mood in the wards was low after the Government rejected a plea from the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) for extra mental health funding.

"It's terrible over there. Everybody is burnt out and depressed and upset," one nurse said.

Most of them already worked long hours so it was difficult to agree to extra shifts.

They were also concerned the CDHB was "so desperate" to fill vacant positions it had resorted to hiring hospital aides, who were not qualified to do a mental health nurse's job.

It was reported in March that burnt-out mental health staff at Hillmorton Hospital came to work anxious and afraid for the safety of themselves and their patients after assaults by patients escalated to an average of more than two a day.

Staff warned then that a major crisis was looming as experienced staff were leaving and new staff would not stay.

When asked if things had improved four months on, two staff members said things were worse.

"We still don't feel supported and there is no light at the end of the tunnel," one said.

CDHB mental health general manager Toni Gutschlag said "things are rough at the moment" in mental health inpatient services as the staff shortage had been exacerbated by several staff being off sick or on leave during the July school holidays.

"We're really trying hard to support staff and keep services running. They're doing an incredible job."

Nurses had been consulted about hiring hospital aides and most said they would find it helpful to have them, Gutschlag said.

They had been hired on fixed-term contracts while the shortage was addressed.

An international recruitment campaign was under way and new nursing graduates would become available in September.

CDHB data showed it also had 4.4 psychiatrist vacancies, but Gutschlag said the board was "in the final stages of recruitment to a number of positions".

The vacancies were due to retirements and staff movements between various mental health services, but nursing turnover in specialist mental health services remained lower than other areas of the CDHB, she said.

PSA national secretary Erin Polaczuk said health workers in Canterbury were "under an incredible amount of pressure and there's no end in sight".

New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) spokeswoman Karen Coltman said having nurses work overtime and double shifts was "not ideal or sustainable".

"There is a real risk that assaults will increase. This is unacceptable and NZNO is working with members and management in specialist mental health services, to highlight the issues and mitigate risk to both staff and patients."

The Ministry of Health did not answer questions within deadline.

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