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Auckland Hospital Cancels Elective Surgery

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

By Matthew Backhouse of NZPA

Wellington, Aug 30 NZPA - Auckland Hospital has cancelled all elective surgery as it struggles to cope with ongoing industrial action.

At least 500 people will be affected by the cancellations, which take effect today and will continue until the unions representing radiographers and hospital laboratory workers settle their separate national pay disputes with District Health Boards (DHBs) throughout the country.

Radiographers are expected to continue their industrial action until at least September 24, while lab workers could continue theirs until September 16.

Auckland DHB spokesman Mark Fenwick said contingency plans had been in place at Auckland and Starship hospitals since the radiographers started their action.

"But the matter is now complicated by laboratory workers and radiographers both striking at the same time and upping their level of action to total withdrawal of labour on several days," he told NZPA.

"That has led to the decision which was taken last Friday to cancel all elective surgery in the hospital."

At least 70 elective operations have been cancelled today, with more than 500 operations expected to be cancelled in total.

"Patients are not very happy about it, clinicians are unhappy, and the level of care that's being provided is being compromised," Mr Fenwick said.

"We hope to resume elective surgery as soon as we can but that depends on whether or not we get any more strike notices.

"We are winding down the hospital operation, essentially."

Mr Fenwick apologised on behalf of the hospital for the inconvenience and distress caused by the cancellations.

He added there would be long delays at the hospital's emergency department, and asked people to see their GP or local medical centre if possible.

The radiographers, who are represented by the Apex union, are next due to go on strike for three days from Friday. They again go on strike as part of nationwide action on September 7.

Apex spokeswoman Robyn Slater said last week the union and DHBs had agreed on two pay increases of 1 percent by October, but there were other issues still on the table.

The nationwide strike would be withdrawn if the issues were resolved, she said.

New Zealand Medical Laboratory Workers Union president Stewart Smith said industrial action was not designed to affect patient services, and reductions in service should be blamed on the decision by some DHBs to suspend workers for up to six days.

"The people who want their tests done need to be able to get them done. They shouldn't have them ripped out from underneath them by a management decision," Mr Smith told NZPA.

Lab workers have been offered two pay rises of 1 percent over the next two years.

DHBs spokeswoman Karen Roach said last week that DHBs had been responsive to the union claims at the bargaining table.

However, they were operating in extremely tight financial circumstances.

"DHBs must be responsible in how they spend public funds. They cannot afford to continue paying a full wage to employees who are participating in sustained industrial action that is affecting services."

Ms Roach said both unions were served by Contract Negotiation Services, which represented 8 percent of the health workforce but accounted for over 90 percent of the strikes in recent years.

Mr Smith said the lab workers union was completely independent, and only contracted experts for the negotiation process.

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