Mental health nursing shortage hits unit

7 April 2017

Nurse shortages will see three beds temporarily closed in Wellington Hospital's Te Whare o Matairangi mental health unit.

The Public Service Association said yesterday that unit staff were at breaking point and members had been told beds would be reduced because of unfilled staff vacancies as patients were discharged .

Nigel Fairley, general manager of mental health services for Capital and Coast District Health Board, said in a statement that the bed numbers at the acute unit would be temporarily reduced by three to ensure safe staffing ratios while waiting for new nursing staff to start.

PSA National Secretary Erin Polaczuk said while the DHB had taken a responsible step in closing the beds if staffing levels were unsafe, this reflected the funding crisis across the health system.

"Our members in mental health in the Wellington region says they are under constant stress because of a lack of resources.

"Experienced staff are leaving, and newly qualified staff don’t yet have the experience to deal with clients who are often volatile and with complex needs.

"Community teams are also under extreme pressure, but they will now have to manage acutely unwell clients until beds become available."

Fairley said mental health staffing levels were a nationwide issue.

“We have recruited seven mental health nurses, who will commence from the next two to three weeks, and bed numbers will return to normal levels as the new staff come on board.”

Polaczuk said New Zealand needed an independent review of the mental health system, to find out what needed to be done.

"Our members could tell Health Minister Jonathan Coleman where the issues are and what he needs to do – once again, we urge him to listen, and to take immediate action."

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