GUEST BLOG: President of NZ Nurses Union – OUR LIVES have changed, utterly.

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I write this column half way through the historic COVID-19 lockdown. Given the daily rate of change, I can hardly imagine what our professional and personal lives will look like when it ends. 

But I know this. We have the potential to create lasting, transformational change beyond this crisis – a different future for our profession and our society is possible. 

The top priority for the country right now is to unite against COVID-19. Collectively and individually we’re stepping up. And as we step up, the Government is mobilising the country’s resources behind us. 

Health Minister David Clark said he’s been given a blank cheque to maintain New Zealanders’ wellbeing. “As a Health Minister, it’s not often you get that mandate”, he observed, “that actually resource should not be your constraint.”

For as long as any of us can remember, NZNO has been fighting for a fully-funded health system. Now, at last, the focus is on the value of our work, not the cost. We are being recognised for what we are – “essential”. 

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These first days of lockdown have seen seismic shifts in practical support for our essential work. 

Some cities made public transport free for us. Our need to get to work became the focus for hastily re-designed timetables. Staff parking became free for most, too. 

Provision of free childcare began. Discretionary sick leave was suddenly available when we needed it. Constrained budgets for clinical supplies, like those which regularly forced the indignity of rationed continence pads, were gone over night. 640,000 PPE masks were shipped to district health boards in a day. 

None of this made the health system perfect. Parts of the sector were completely overlooked. Many inequities remained. But such resourcing was almost unthinkable just weeks earlier.

This transformation extends far beyond health. As a society, we are now embracing new values and ideas. From the Prime Minister down, the message is, “Be kind”. We’re working together so the needs of the community are prioritised above individualism. New “caremongering” groups are springing up in communities, to help more vulnerable members.

We have returned to more socialist ways of thinking – “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”.

The same thing’s happening internationally, too. Countries less affected by, or recovering from the pandemic are helping those suffering more – because until there’s a vaccine, the only way any of us will be safe from future outbreaks is through global control.

As World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says: “The bottom line is solidarity, solidarity, solidarity”.

We’re all in this together. He waka eke noa. As the weeks go on, we must intensify this focus on community, solidarity and kotahitanga. This is the way to keep us united against COVID-19, support essential health workers and fix the inequities still in our health system.

But let’s not shelve this approach once the virus is under control.

All around the world, countries are comparing the fight against COVID-19 to a war. And like in a war, when the battle against COVID-19 is over, we will have to rebuild.

There may be hard times ahead. But with our new priorities and values, the world we rebuild can be better than before. 

As World War Two was drawing to a close, the British Government contemplated a radical vision of post-war reconstruction. It knew the people who’d sacrificed so much for the country – especially the troops on the front line – wouldn’t settle for going back to how things were before.

So, despite the war rationing and scarcity, they drew up plans to massively expand workers’ rights, social housing and the welfare safety net. Out of this came what was then the world’s best health system, the National Health Service.

I believe Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern when she says, “we will get through this”. And when we do, today’s frontline will be insisting on a better future. •

First published (lightly edited) in Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand, April 2020

Grant Brookes is the President at New Zealand Nurses Organisation.

15 COMMENTS

  1. What an excellent contravution to our state of mind thank you Grant Brookes President of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation.

    We need to feel cared for in these ussettling timess, especially for the most weakened and vunerable souls amongst our society.

    Our health system needs be show clearly to be highly compassionate and caring.

  2. There is also the chance to end homelessness as now all we are hearing is about tourist accomodation being empty. Let it go to mortgage sale and buy up for state housing….

    Coronavirus: Hotels start shutting down as Covid-19 restrictions bite
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/120898316/coronavirus-hotels-start-shutting-down-as-covid19-restrictions-bite

    But hear the neoliberals gasp in horror! Not bail out shareholders????

    Already the disastrous CHCH reconstruction being aimed on the never never of tourists coming to sports conferences and events and hotels rather than the domestic welfare of the community that lived there has come to failure. Likewise the burnt out wreck of Sky City conference centre is not looking good.

    Anybody who thinks that life will go back to normal with mass tourism and airlines continuing is deluded. Already people are being re-infected as they go back to countries cleared of Covid-19.

    Video conferencing and e-commerce will continue and tourism will be off the books for years.

    Is our government going to bet the future NZ economy on aimlessly propping up physical retail stores and mass tourists coming that need expensive infrastructure like roads and water that others are paying for, rather a renaissance of decent health care and education, manufacturing, IT and the arts that contribute to society’s wealth (media, music, art) and innovation to spring board a better direction for this country than the disastrous pandering of the non creative and low skilled feudal system of ‘essential skills list’ of Chefs, hammer hands and retail…. who barely survived on the feudal wages before Covid-19 but now demanding the lions share of welfare, too.

  3. One of the measure of a caring society is how the Health system and community gives love and care to the citizens.
    A secondary and material measure is how fast we comsume resources, fill up our landfills and pollutes the Environment.
    A fundamental measure is how other creatures and plants live in harmony with the human interloper and how we care for other living things.

    A society that runs its organisation in a way that ignores the fundamentals will have suffering and terminate unless it changes.
    Economists and the financial sector delude its adherents and we all suffer. The rich and powerful are never our friends. They continually justify ignoring the fundamentals.

    • “One of the measures of a caring society is how the Health system and community gives love and care to the citizens.” ~John W
      QFT

      Absolutely spot on comment.
      The other option is; (1) individually, a brief and brutish existence, and (2) collectively, another failed branch of the evolutionary tree.

  4. There may be hard times ahead. But with our new priorities and values, the world we rebuild can be better than before.

    Yes. Ahead of us is a rare opportunity for radical change and improvement, within our Health System and throughout many aspects of society.

    I believe Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern when she says, “we will get through this”. And when we do, today’s frontline will be insisting on a better future.

  5. The real people who comprise our Health System, all of the day to day workers, are quite incredible. Each and every one of them. The rest of us, as we wake up to the enormity of it all, have immense gratitude for all that you do. I so much hope that our appreciation translates into tangible, workable, and very significant improvement to all aspects of the lives of all our health workers, once we are through this pandemic.

    • K – the hidden factor is the lack of funding in the whole area of tertiary education including the training of Doctors, specialists and nursing staff.
      Our hospitals and medical centres just could not run on the meagre staffing that are NZ trained. We have a totally unsustainable health system if we cut off imported staff.
      The answer is to train more in NZ.
      Cuba has 6 doctors per 1000 population after sending off thousands to help out globally
      NZ has 2.2 doctors per 1000 population including imported Doctors.
      Medical training in Cuba is free.

      • Cuba puts us to shame.

        And there’s Médecins Sans Frontières, already on the knife-edge of medical emergencies, now they too have to deal with Covid-19. Dr Christou, International President, sent a letter to all staff and supporters in response to the pandemic. It included this:

        “The need for diagnostics, effective treatments and a vaccine cannot become the latest auction of the pharmaceutical industry, sold to the highest bidder. In the struggle to contain this pandemic, no one should be left behind.”

        MSF President on Covid 19 response

        • So damn right Just look AT DONALD TRUMP trying to capitalise on his John and Johnson shareholding already pushing one of the four front runners .

  6. This was written 6 years ago. http://werewolf.co.nz/2014/12/public-health-the-silent-crisis/

    Our health system has got worse as NZ (among many other mistakes) has dumped hundreds of thousands new migrants on our health and education system to prop up mostly low waged sunset businesses and poor employers, while turning a blind eye to the fact that our country now repels bright people here, who believe in social good and practical outcomes and expect to be paid real wages.

    At the other end in the higher wages, another picture is emerging of incompetence…

    In the past 6 years instead of recovery, we seem to have have increased our cultural change of fraud and mediocrity in NZ, as we welcome the Joanne Harrison’s https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/political/331250/whistleblowers-tell-of-incredible-day-their-jobs-were-axed who enjoy operating under the ‘watchful’ eye of our best and brightest like Martin Matthews’ Auditor-General… with some fabulous new competent citizens here like “Treasury Hack” Gabriel Makhlouf https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12275259, Richard Yan’s takeover of Mainzeal https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=12271022 and Fonterra’s disastrous Sanlu and Beingmate debacle under Theo Spiering who received performance bonus while his failed offshore strategy instead run the company into the ground https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/97212718/fonterra-ceo-theo-spierings-paid-832m-this-year https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=12271028

    Agree with the sentiments that health workers are amazing. But the culture above them and how the hospitals are functioning and what is funded and what is not (aka “innovation arm” Ko Awatea being funded to build conference centres at Counties Manakau instead of using the money to remove the mould and sewage in the kids wards there) https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/108036479/counties-manukau-dhb-calls-in-serious-fraud-office-to-investigate-alleged-historic-fraud or nobody noticing and SFO not prosecuting when the DHB head goes on overseas conferences for years https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/checkpoint/audio/2018622823/nigel-murray-abused-his-position-former-waikato-dhb-ceo who manage to be disappointing for years but still hired around NZ https://www.odt.co.nz/regions/southland/murray-did-not-impress-southland

    Also be aware the new recruits might not be at the same standards of our previous health workers as our new strategy for education of profit on seats starts to bite.

    Reports of cheating in our tertiary institutions have been ignored for years by our government. But now we are seeing NZ graduates to be alarmed at. https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/411126/former-doctor-jailed-for-at-least-19-years-for-murder-of-amber-rose-rush https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/405648/230-high-street-christchurch-council-distances-its-engineer-from-unstable-building https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/84488823/falling-through-the-cracks-experts-warn-of-a-wave-of-new-buildings-failing-earthquake-standards

    Can NZ government work it out, or will they continue more of the same, under the advice of the above types feathering their nests and/or being sociopaths?

  7. Just watched the daily briefing.
    I must hand to her – today Jacinda was amazing!
    End of story.

  8. Well put Grant. Interesting to hear about the instant reforms for NZNO members. Strangely enough homeless people are being housed too! From tiny lockable sleeping units in Wellington to repurposed serviced apartments in Auckland.

    Please stay on The Daily Blog as your time permits. The “mainstream” media will be in for major shake up too as evidenced with the Bauer title collapses, and even our distressed jean hero Hosking is going behind the Herald paywall apparently. The likes of The Daily Blog may just become part of the New Mainstream Media! and the more credible writers on board, such as yourself, the better.

  9. Great blog. Nurses have our respect, always, so good to read your account of the turnaround in the conditions of their jobs, and the expectation that socialised medicine will be a reality. Will pass this on to your former colleague Anna, now working in South Africa.

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