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Nurses, National critical of low success rate of $300,000 recruitment drive

An overseas recruitment campaign targeting intensive care nurses has employed just three people since it was launched two months ago.

Covid-19 outbreak. Healthcare worker. Nurse working in intensive care unit. Mechanical ventilation system in the background .
Earlier this year a report found nurses were overworked and exhausted because of consistent understaffing. (File pic) Photo: 123RF

The $300,000 programme was set up to entice New Zealand-qualified critical care nurses working abroad to return home.

The drive is desperately needed, given acute workforces shortages, but it has only yielded three appointments so far.

As of last Friday, 93 applications had been received and 22 of these had been referred to their preferred DHB for employment.

Of these 22 referrals, just three are now in jobs.

A further 28 applicants are still being assessed.

College of Critical Care Nurses chair Tania Mitchell said it was reassuring some Kiwi nurses had come home but progress was far too slow.

"The concerning thing for me is that we've seen this pandemic evolve overseas for a couple of years and we've known that nursing prior to that, it's already at crisis point.

"So it does seem that it's taking a long time for this to be recognised and these active measures [to be introduced] to try and increase our nursing numbers."

Health Minister Andrew Little said he was happy with the results achieved so far.

"This is a campaign that's due to run through to the end of June so I think that's a good result, good progress so far."

National Party Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti said the result was incredibly disappointing.

"The minister is dreaming if he thinks that's a good result and I'm telling him New Zealanders don't think that's a good result.

"I think it's an appalling waste of taxpayer funds. I think it's mismanagement and at the end of the day, it doesn't actually resolve our problem."

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Shane Reti, left, and Andrew Little. Photo: RNZ

Little first spoke about offshore recruiting last November but it took until February for the campaign to get off the ground.

That same month a major independent report, ordered by the minister, found nurses were overworked and exhausted because of consistent understaffing.

Mitchell said the report made for a shocking read but was not surprising.

She said morale in intensive care nursing was particularly low right now and New Zealand risked losing them altogether if things did not improve.

"We've had a long time of working understaffed and that is hard on nurses when they feel like they're not able to provide the level of care that they'd like to for the patients; that the patients aren't getting the best care that they need and the best health journey possible.

"As nurses, that makes our work less and less satisfying, leads to people being burned out and feeling undervalued and ultimately people leaving; leaving the nursing workforce for jobs with better pay and better conditions."

RNZ put this frontline fatigue to the minister, who acknowledged the pressure on critical care nurses and said the government was working as quickly as it could to ease it.

"We are getting more people and we're building more ICU spaces for those for whom part of the pressure they're dealing with is just the workspaces that they're in.

"So my message to them is 'hold on, we are building the ICU nurse workforce as quickly as we can' and they will want you so that they're going to get good quality, well-qualified, well-experienced people to work alongside them."

Mitchell said ICU nurses had been "holding on" for years and more staff, whether they were recruited onshore or offshore, could not come fast enough.