The Southern District Health Board has been given less than a week to come back with a solution to nursing staff shortages, which nurses say compromise patient care.
Three hundred nurses from Dunedin and Wakari hospitals met this week to discuss the issues, and have told executives they have until next Monday to offer a resolution.
Managers have been told that many nurses are working overtime and doing double shifts without meal breaks, and part-time staff are working more shifts than normal.
The Nurses Association's associate professional services manager, Hillary Graham-Smith, says the situation has occurred because nurses who leave are not being replaced and now staff are having to cut corners with patients by ascertaining what they can safely not do during their shifts.
She says she wants to avoid industrial action. "I really hope that the DHB comes back willing to talk more and willing to engage with nurses - the largest workforce in the conversation - about what the solutions need to look like.
"And if they don't do that, then we'll be extremely disappointed, and I guess then we have to consider what options we have."
The DHB's executive director of nursing and midwifery, Leanne Samuel, says the board is working with nurses to resolve the issues.