Standing up for healthcare professionals

New Zealand registered anaesthetic technician (NZRAT) and PSA union delegate Louise Morgan provides another perspective on the current state of training and pay for health workers.

After reading Katie Chadwick-Smith’s excellent article in the August 2014 edition of Working Life, I felt compelled to write an article about where anaesthetic technicians are now from a PSA union and trade training perspective.

As Katie highlighted, we are highly skilled and valuable members of the operating theatre healthcare team. Health Workforce NZ and the government agree there is a need for and a shortage of NZRATs. There are many reasons for the shortage, including many NZRATs choosing to move into private sector roles, such as medical representatives, due to poor salaries and a lack of ways to advance in the profession.

As part of addressing the current shortage, the Medical Sciences Council has asked our professional body, the New Zealand Anaesthetic Technicians’ Society (NZATS), to develop a trade training plan that identifies ways to train NZRATs more efficiently so they are able to move into district health board roles more quickly. Last year NZATS hosted information and exchange meetings about the training plan around the country. PSA delegates and local area representatives were present at many of these meetings. The training plan is in the last stages of development and when finalized may have a significant impact on training requirements, certification, hiring practices and pay scales.

Beyond potential NZRAT training changes, this year a 12-month postgraduate programme for qualified nursing staff has been introduced that leads to a Certificate of Proficiency Registered Nurse Assistant to the Anaesthetist (RNAA). Nurses who earn this certificate will not sit NZATS national examinations and will not be known as anaesthetic technicians, but in the long term they may compete for anaesthetic technician roles within DHBs.

In other words, we are at an important crossroads with NZRATs in New Zealand where the voice of the PSA is crucial. The union needs to consider how the proposed training changes will impact on the current workforce in terms of salary, progression and conditions of employment. The question for those of us in the field is how will we ensure our roles are classed as fair and secure in the future in our trade group with the multi-tier profession that has been introduced with the RNAA and potential changes to our profession’s training? How will we ensure we have the opportunity for career development and advancement, particularly since we do not have the same educational entitlements to further training as our nursing colleagues have? And how do we, as a trade group, achieve a diverse and flexible career pathway in the future when the playing field seems to be increasingly uneven?

These are not easy issues to address, but they must be considered as we enter into bargaining later this year.

Editor’s note: As part of the terms of settlement of the 2014 Allied Health and Technical Multi-Employer Collective Agreement, it was agreed that specific issues for a number of allied health professions (including NZRATs) would be progressed. The PSA is currently doing this through engagement with the employer groups.


This article is from the March 2015 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.