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Clock ticking . . . The health board is preparing to close many of the elective services at Timaru Hospital during the strike. PHOTO: COURIER FILES

by Greta Yeoman

The South Canterbury District Health Board is preparing for a strike by nursing staff.

South Canterbury nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants who are members of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) are set to strike on Thursday, July 5 for 24 hours.

The health board received the official strike notice on Wednesday last week, confirming that the planned industrial action – in response to a rejected pay offer from health boards around the country – would start at 7am on Thursday next week and continue until 7am on the Friday.

A SCDHB spokeswoman said about 98% of nursing staff under the employment of the board were union members.

While the nurses organisation declined to comment to The Courier, due to busyness with mediation work, the union had clarified its reasons for striking in an earlier media statement.

In the June 18 statement – before strike action was announced – nurses organisation industrial services manager Cee Payne said the past decade of underfunding for health boards around the country had taken a “heavy toll” on nurses and midwives and their ability to provide safe patient care.

“Nurses and midwives do not trust that their work environment or patient care will improve in the short term. While the revised offer included new funding to address short staffing, concern remains that this may not be enough to make a real difference.”

The strike would be the second only by nursing staff. Public hospital nurses went on strike in 1989.

The health board was preparing for the strike by closing many of the elective services at Timaru Hospital during the strike timeframe, and was informing patients if their appointments would have to be postponed.

Board chief executive Nigel Trainor said while the hospital would continue to operate emergency departments, emergency surgery and maternity care throughout the strike, only minimum levels of care would be able to maintained.

All outpatient clinics would be closed, he said.

“This action will have a drastic effect on the services we can provide because there can be no support from neighbouring DHBs.”

He said some services, such as inpatient elective surgery, would actually stop before the strike date to ensure the number of patients in the hospital when the strike begins was as low as possible.

“Our number one consideration will be patient safety,” he said.