The President comments: ‘2017 – A year filled with possibility’

First published in Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand, February 2017. Reposted with permission. 

Summer will soon be officially over, and 2017 well under way. It’s time to think about what the year ahead will hold.

For NZNO members, this year is filled with possibility. In 2017, we will have a real ability to make change for the better. And don’t we all need that!

Summer is often the season which reminds us most of life outside work. But when we’re run ragged through understaffing, and leave work exhausted, everyone misses out. Our friends and families don’t see us at our best. Our patients don’t get the best from us. We miss out ourselves, too, on the good things we see others enjoying.

Funding squeezes, year on year, have created an ever-increasing pressure to “do more with less”. This pressure is now being felt across the health sector.

It has pushed resident doctors in district health boards (DHBs) to take escalating industrial action, just to get rosters and staffing levels which don’t leave them burnt out, and on the edge of unsafe practice. St John Ambulance professionals can’t get the rest and meal breaks they need so they’re fit to make decisions on the job. In many places, ambulances still aren’t fully crewed with skilled staff.

Funding squeezes also mean that more and more people are missing out on the health care they need, while new grad nurses who could provide care struggle to find work. So how can we change this for the better?

Day in and day out, nurses and midwives at all levels claim the right to take part in decision-making, based on our professional expertise and experience. But in 2017, the opportunity for all NZNO members to influence the future of health will be greater, due to the alignment of two major events.

Renegotiation of the DHB multi-employer collective agreement (MECA), which expires in July, will enable close to 30,000 of us to have a say about conditions in the public health system. The general election  in September allows every member to have a say about this country’s priorities – not just as an individual voter, but also as an influential member of their community.

Nursing’s full power

Professionalism gives us a voice. But it’s the synergy between professional authority, industrial strength and political enfranchisement – like the one developing this year – that releases the full power of nursing.

That’s not to say it’s going to be a walk in the park. The resident doctors are facing an uphill battle and attacks in the media. Ambulance professionals suffered 10 per cent pay cuts designed to weaken their resolve.

But public support for the doctors has been overwhelming. In a 1 News Facebook poll, 95 per cent of respondents supported their strike last month.

And the “ambos” have showed that when you stick together and stand firm, fairness can win. In mid-January, St John backed down on the pay cuts and talked about repaying all wages they’d deducted.

For us, if you’re in a DHB the first step in making change is exercising your right to attend the MECA meetings which start in May. Times and places will be advertised by NZNO delegates and organisers.

Then, in the election, NZNO won’t tell members who to vote for. But staff will produce resources to enable you to make an informed vote for a government which values health, and to support conversations with family, friends and workmates so they can do the same.

There are 48,000 NZNO members, and many more potential supporters. There is power in numbers. Chances like this may not come around again for a while, so this year we need to seize our opportunities and use our power for nursing and health. •

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