Now is the time for change, New Zealand.

For too long, nurses have had to work in unsafe environments. For too long, the wards that nurses work in have been understaffed, putting themselves and patients at risk. For too long, nurses have had to put up with these working conditions and understaffing.

Our calls for change have been ignored.

The Nurse Florence initiative was created to allow the New Zealand public to read what is happening in our workplaces, as described by nurses.

We were told that because we are nurses we have a code of confidentiality to maintain and that this code prevents us from saying what happens at work. While maintaining this code of conduct to protect patient privacy, must we be silent about understaffed wards? Put at risk of violence, assaulted and having this minimised by our hospitals?

If we are silent about them, how can we expect there to be any change? What will motivate our leaders to make that change?

Where can New Zealand nurses go when we are shrugged off? When we are expected to suck it up or told we have to negotiate to have safer staffing levels and working conditions?

Who is looking out for the nurses of New Zealand?

Do you know what we have heard since launching this initiative? We have heard nurses say that high patient loads cause a gap – between giving the patients the care they were trained to give – versus the care they actually receive.

How can we hold the hand of the dying, spend time comforting those facing new diagnoses and reassure their loved ones that they are in the best hands when in some shifts we are only able to do the bare minimum?

The current health system with its chronic understaffing forces nurses to view patients as a checklist.

We have heard nurses speak about the violence they are continuously exposed to. Nurses who have been seriously assaulted, off work for months, and nurses who haven’t been able to return to work because of the injuries they have sustained from an unwell patient. Is this an acceptable environment for nurses and patients to be in?

How many assaults need to happen before nurses can be heard?

We are afraid someone will have to die before you take this seriously. Nurses are not punching bags.

Does the public understand that nurses do not have protective gear, they do not have security guards nearby, and that nurses are expected to manage dangerous situations with no or little support?

We have heard many different stories, from heart-breaking to gut-wrenching. We have had stories from patients and family members about how nurses have been too busy to be able to provide essential aspects of care, leaving them disempowered, vulnerable and angry.

Nurses are hurting too. Nurses are fed-up with waiting for something to change. Enough is enough. We are not oblivious to our patients’ needs and their suffering, we see the patients that we haven’t been able to spend time with each shift and we weep for you.

We have heard stories from nurses who are unable to sleep at night, knowing they are not able to provide the compassionate care they want to give.

Nurses are suffering from stress, anxiety, compassion fatigue, depression and burnout as a result of having to work this way and under these conditions.

We hear you, nurses. New Zealand hears you. The government hears you. The DHBs hear you.

The difference is that when we heard you, we wanted to act on it. We are taking a stand.

Everyone who has come today hears you: the nurses, the healthcare assistants, and the public all hear you. We are all standing together united for the future, our health care and for our patients.

We do not want to work understaffed and under threat of violence. We want to be supported; we want better staff-to-patient ratios. We want to be able to work in wards where we can care equally for all our patients and ensure they are getting the best care we can offer.

So, how about you, Jacinda Ardern, can you hear us? Are you watching us, David Clark? How about you, Julie Anne Genter, have you been listening?

To all the DHB CEOS and general managers, are you listening today?

They do hear us! We know they have been watching this unfold and we know they are listening.

We have contacted them all. But we have been met with silence. We have had no response.

This seems to us a blatant refusal to acknowledge the situation, using bargaining with the nursing union being underway as an excuse not to comment.

The issues nurses face are bigger than the NZNO DHB MECA! Nurses are employed in many different areas outside the DHBs and face these same issues. DHB and non-DHB nurses alike are suffering and so are their patients and families.

Why are nurses expected to be silent? Why are management and the government silent?

Why are we made to feel if we do speak up about the workloads and injuries we face that there will be repercussions or disciplinary action? Nurses are afraid if they stand up and speak out they will be bullied, or that it could cost them their jobs.

Why do you think the ‘Nurse Florences’ are running this from behind an alias? Because of fear, fear of what happens if you do the right thing and speak up.

Did you hear the stories about families being left on wards scared and vulnerable, Jacinda? Do you care, David? What if that was your family? What if that was someone you cared about?

Did you hear about nurses being pushed beyond exhaustion? Called to come back to work without having a nine-hour break after a shift? Told by management they don’t have anyone else available? What is it going to take for you to hear us?

To every member of parliament – don’t forget that you and your family will at some point require the service of nurses, whether you use the public health system or private, whether someone in your family is in an aged care facility or having to be visited at home.

Think about the kind of nurse you want looking after your mother, father, sister, brother or children. Do you want to be cared for by overworked, understaffed, under-resourced, burnt out nurses who are only able to provide the bare minimum of care? Do you want your families to be cared for in wards where staff and patients are getting assaulted and abused?

Or do you want nurses who have manageable patient loads, are adequately staffed, and have time to provide comfort and care in wards that are safe?

We know which nurses we want to have caring for us. Now it’s your turn to decide, Jacinda…

Thank you New Zealand – HEAR OUR VOICE.

Authors: Nurse North (a new graduate nurse) and Nurse South (an enrolled nurse) are ‘Nurse Florence’ – the two anonymous founders of the New Zealand, please hear our voice Facebook page created in early March, which quickly gained 45,000 plus members and led to the May 12 International Nurses Day marches across the country.

Nurse Florence also sent their thanks to everyone who turned out to march and rally for safer staffing and working conditions, with a special thank you to the marches’ volunteer organisers.

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