Junior doctors enter five-day strike

News 29/04/2019

Thousands of junior doctors have just walked off the job, kicking off an unprecedented five-day strike.

It is their fifth strike this year. David Munro from the Registered Doctors' Association says it's tough, but necessary.

"We want to show them we mean business in protecting our multi-employer collective agreement."

If that's going to take a five-day strike, then that's what we have to do.

Thousands of workers are taking part in the workforce's fifth strike this year, over proposed changes to their employment contract. They say new rosters will leave them even more exhausted and overworked than they already are, and want existing conditions and provisions within their contracts protected.

Munro says members are at their wits' end with health bosses.

"We've had strong ballots all the way through on a high turnout. It's very disappointing for the doctors - they didn't become doctors to go on strike."

They became doctors to look after people and make the world a better place.

But Capital and Coast DHB Chief Medical Officer John Tait told The AM Show on Monday the changes will give doctors more flexibility and ultimately "make things better".

Dr John Tait. Photo credit: The AM Show

"The present roster has some unforeseen consequences in it affecting training, continuity of care and handovers... all of which have potential problems with patient safety."

The DHBs want different facilities to have personalised rosters, rather than a "one-size-fits-all" approach.

"Why do you say that after 10 days, you need four days off? Maybe if there was more flexibility that said if you were fatigued after eight days, you could have a day off? So flexibility within the rosters, rather than a one-size-fits-all and it doesn't fit. A roster that works at Wellington Women's Health [might not work in] Hawke's Bay.

I can see where they are coming from.

"I think there are ways through this, without just saying we have to remain with the status quo."

Munro said the changes will leave doctors "fatigued and exhausted".

"They're doing this so that into the future they can work safely in the hospital [and] deliver the public the best possible care."

NZRDA vice-president Kathryn Foster told The AM Show late last year they don't get a lot of breaks, and sometimes have to work 16-hour shifts up to 12 days in a row.

The strike covers all DHBs except Canterbury, as the hospital is still under pressure following the March mosque attacks. There was a strike scheduled for mid-April, but this was postponed out of respect for the victims.

Dr Tait said emergency services will still be running.

"The hospitals have spent considerable amount of time and effort to ensure that patients will be safe, that acute services will continue to run as per normal."

If it's not urgent though, he says go to your GP first.

The two parties are set to enter facilitation on May 9.

The AM Show / Newshub reporter Dan Satherley