Scarce hospital jobs for grad nurses 'great problem to have' - health boss

Benedict Collins Benedict Collins | 06-21 16:20

Te Whatu Ora boss Fepulea'i Margie Apa says not having enough places in hospitals for graduate nurses is a "great problem to have".

The chief executive of Health New Zealand - Te Whatu Ora fronted 1News today after making a slow moving escape from questions after a select committee hearing on Wednesday, which was part of Scrutiny Week at Parliament.

The new initiative is aimed at allowing ministers and high-ranking public officials to be accountable for their decision-making.

It follows uncertainty over how many nursing graduates will get jobs in the public health system, due to Budget constraints at Te Whatu Ora, according to the New Zealand Nurses Organisation. Te Whatu Ora said it is due to not having enough vacancies.

The union has expressed concern it would mean some of the 535 new nurses about to graduate won't have jobs in hospitals, and those who get jobs outside of hospitals may not be be properly supported.

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Health New Zealand's boss has apologised and promised she'll do better, Benedict Collins reports.

Seeking clarity on Wednesday, 1News approached Apa to get the facts — but before a question could be asked, she said: "No comment."

She then said she had to "rush" to another meeting.

It prompted criticism from the Opposition, with Labour's health spokesperson Ayesha Verrall saying Te Whatu Ora needed to front and it was "not good enough to try and escape questions".

Labour health spokesperson Ayesha Verrall. (Source: 1News)

Health Minister Shane Reti also said he expected health agencies to "engage respectfully and proactively with the public through the New Zealand media".

Yesterday, Te Whatu Ora released a statement saying it would still place new nurses, but there were "more expressions of interest than we are likely to have vacancies".

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Today, after refusing another interview yesterday, Apa fronted questions from 1News.

She said there had been "unsettling" for graduate nurses due to "conflicting messages".

"Can I assure them that we are working really hard to make sure that we can match them to positions in the health sector.

"Over the next few days our directors of nursing across the country are working, not just within Health New Zealand — because we're not the only employer of nurses — but also the wider sector including primary care, aged residential care, child health services, public health, to make available all of those opportunities for grad nurses as well."

Asked if it meant there wouldn't be many vacancies for nurses in the hospital system, she said it was a normal process to work through finding positions for graduate nurses within hospitals, and graduate nurses were recruited twice a year.

"It is true that we don't have as many places as we would normally have because we have done such a great job of recruiting nurses into hospitals."

Apa was asked how many of the 535 new nurses would be able to get roles in hospitals. She said Te Whatu Ora was "working on that over the next few days" and aimed to give those nurses certainty by the end of next week.

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She said nurses could work in multiple settings throughout their career — both in hospitals and in community care.

Health Minister Shane Reti. (Source: 1News)

Nurse numbers had "come a long way" from workforce shortages a year ago, she said.

"It's a really great problem to have because certainly when Minister Reti came in, we were facing some shortages, we did over the January / February period take on 1500 new grads."

Apa said to increase opportunities to New Zealand graduate nurses, Te Whatu Ora had reduced subsidies to international nurses.

"We are certainly focusing our efforts on New Zealand-trained graduates."

There were about 300 nurses who left Health NZ a week, she said — "there is some churn".

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Te Whatu Ora aimed to match nurses to roles where there was "good support" for them, "to get that early supervision, early training, and that they're surrounded by senior nurses [who] can support them".

Apa apologises for evading questioning

Apa apologised for "walking past" when 1News attempted to ask her questions after the select committee on Wednesday and provided a new reason for it.

"We'd just come out of select committee and I was trying to really give [the] Minister time to do his media address but also I had to get to another meeting.

"I apologise for not really stopping and having the opportunity to talk to you.

Margie Apa told 1News she had another meeting to get to.

"I hadn't been briefed, either, on the issue, and so I did really want to make sure I had the facts in front of me before I was able to respond."

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"Next time I will make sure that I pause and if I don't have the information ... I'll certainly say that."

She said she accepted the questions were important and not "gotcha" journalism, despite describing it as that hours before on RNZ's Morning Report.

Asked if she believed she'd met Reti's expectations health agencies be respectful and proactive in their interactions with the public through the media, she said she had "never been one to shy away from representing Health New Zealand's position in [the] media".

"I'm a regular commentator and I do respond.

"I will do better next time."

Who is Margie Apa?

Apa was appointed chief executive of Health New Zealand in July 2022.

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According to reporting in The Post at the end of last year, she earns $864,000 per year for the role.

Her career spans more than 20 years in executive roles in the public sector, according to the Health NZ website. That includes at the Ministry of Health as the deputy director-general of health, and the chief executive of Counties Manukau District Health Board.

She graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Auckland and is a voluntary chairwoman of World Vision New Zealand.

Fepulea'i is an honorific (or chief title) from her family village of Sale'aula, Savai'i, in Samoa.

Additional reporting by Felix Desmarais

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