Nursing leaders are considering how best to celebrate International Nurses Day this year as nurses’ pent-up frustrations at safe staffing and pay issues rises to the surface.

“International nurses day comes at a time when many nurses are saying ‘enough is enough’,” said Professor Jenny Carryer, the executive director of the College of Nurses Aotearoa. “This is happening at a time when the entire system is under considerable pressure and no obvious solutions are apparent.”

Memo Musa, NZNO’s chief executive, said with just six days to go until the Budget it has asked both the Ministers of Finance and Health to boost health funding “significantly”. “With a particular mind on the struggling nursing workforce that is calling out for greater workforce support so they can work to the top of their practice.”

15 nationwide marches and rallies are to be held on Saturday May 12 – Florence Nightingale’s birthday, which is celebrated worldwide as International Nurses Day – as nurses and their supporters make sure New Zealand ‘hears their voice’ prior to the health budget being announced on May 17.

District Health Board nurse members of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) are also voting on whether to take two 24-hour strikes in July over their stalled pay talks with the 20 DHBs, while an independent panel tries to find a solution to prevent a winter strike.

Carryer said that a simple solution to the current pressure on the health system was for nurses’ services to be valued as they deserve and not to be considered as a cost to be “pruned and constrained at every opportunity”.

“We could switch to regarding nursing as the resource that – with thoughtful evidence-based investment and attention – could transform multiple areas of service delivery to being better for patients and more cost-effective in the long term,” said Carryer. “This will take courage and vision and acceptance that it is a long-term solution. But the longer it is left, the harder it will be.”

The theme set by the International Council of Nurses for this year’s International Nurses Day is Nurses: A voice to lead – health is a human right and for nurses to lobby for healthcare to be accessible to all, regardless of their locations or settings.

Grant Brookes, NZNO president, said the human right to healthcare has been compromised after nine years of underinvestment in health in New Zealand and as a result some people’s healthcare access was restricted. “Nurses at all levels are using their voice to uphold the human right to health, from the nurse executives to the thousands taking action through NZNO’s #HealthNeedsNursing campaign, calling for the investment to rebuild a quality public health system.”

Musa added that nurses are the backbone of healthcare systems internationally and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that half the world lacks access to essential health services.

“Nurses have a unique and intimate view of a person’s life more than any other health profession,” he said. “[They have] a unique position to provide care that is enshrined in human rights, that is person-centred.”

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