Waikato DHB has been forced to postpone and reschedule a number of outpatient clinics, mental health clinics and non-emergency surgery due to a junior doctors strike taking place from 7am on Tuesday 17 January to 8am on Friday 20 January.
The DHB is rescheduling around 400 outpatient appointments and around 100 inpatient appointments so that senior doctors can focus on caring for patients in the Emergency Department, Intensive Care and Maternity.
All patients whose operations or clinical appointments are affected by the strike are being notified by telephone or mail. Not all clinics are being rescheduled, so the DHB is asking patients who have not been notified to please attend for their appointment.
The DHB employs 420 junior doctors, mostly working out of Waikato Hospital, about 70 per cent of these are members of the junior doctors’ union, the Resident Doctors Association (RDA). As part of contingency planning the hospital is planning for all of these members to strike.
Dr Doug Stephenson, Acting Chief Medical Officer, said: "Our junior doctors make up the bulk of our medical workforce and we are highly dependent on them.
"We’ve invested heavily in our junior doctors over the last few years, dramatically increasing their numbers, so the consequences of many of them striking is that we only have enough senior doctors to provide urgent care.
"We will need to reduce the number of patients in the hospital over the period leading up to and during the proposed industrial action, deferring planned surgery and clinic visits which creates a lot of angst for our patients."
Dr Stephenson, said hospital doctors and managers have spent a lot of time on contingency planning to ensure patient safety over the 73 hours of the strike and that he had personally worked overnight shifts in the Emergency Department during the last strike in October.
"This will be the third time in four months we’ve had to shift all of our energy and a significant amount of time to cover the roster to assure patient safety. Although the second strike was called off in November, much of the planning had already been done."
Most of New Zealand’s 20 DHBs will be affected by the action, which will involve a complete withdrawal of labour by RDA members. The district health board’s other hospitals in Thames, Te Kuiti, Taumarunui and Tokoroa are mostly unaffected by the strike.
Should the strike notice be lifted, services will resume.
Dr Stephenson said: "We really appreciate our senior doctors’ assistance and will be doing all we can to provide them with support during the strike."
He added: "We are reminding the public to keep our emergency department for emergencies only. If your illness or injury is not urgent you may face long delays. It’s better to go to your family doctor or local private accident and medical clinic when symptoms first appear rather than becoming seriously ill and needing emergency services."
Patients can also contact Healthline for advice on 0800 611 611. The DHB also has a new free online out of hours doctor service for people who can’t get to see a doctor easily on an evening or weekends. For details on how to sign up, visit www.smarthealth.org.nz
The hospital has set up a helpline number for those who are unsure about their appointment. The number is 0800 276 216.
For more updates on the strike please visit www.waikatodhb.health.nz/strike
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