‘Freed to care & proud to nurse, in productive workplaces’ – Speech to NZNO Southern Regional Convention

Ka tangi te tītī, ka tangi te kākā, ka tangi hoki au – Tīhei mauri ora!

Kei te tū ahau ki te tautoko i ngā mihi ki te Kaihanga. Kei te mihi anō ki ngā maunga, ngā awa me ngā wāhi tapu o tēnei rohe.

E ngā mate, haere, haere, haere. Rātou te hunga mate ki a rātou. Tātou te hunga ora e huihui mai nei, tēnā tātou.

E te tiamana, ko Barbara, me te mangai-ā-rohe o Te Rūnanga o Aotearoa NZNO, ko Lara, tēnā kōrua. Ngā whakawhetai ki a kōrua mō tā kōrua pōwhiri.

E ngā rangatira, Kerri, Memo, e ngā kaimahi, me ngā kaiārahi nēhi e huihui nei, tēnā koutou.

Ko wai ahau?

Ko Kapukataumahaka te maunga

Ko Ōwheo te awa

Ko Cornwall te waka

Ko Stuart me Sanderson ōku hapū

Ko Don rāua ko Helen ōku mātua

Ko Tangata Tiriti tōku iwi

Ko Grant Brookes tōku ingoa.

Ka maumahara ahau ki tēnei whakataukī o Kai Tahu: “He mahi kai takata, he mahi kai hōaka”. Nā konei, tēnei te kaupapa o te rā nei: ka huihui tātou kia whakapakaritia ake te mahi tahi. Ka kōkiri ngā nēhi, ka whitiwhitia te tautiaki.

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

As the tītī (muttonbird) calls, as the kaka calls, so will I speak.

I have just explained that I stand to support the acknowledgements to the Creator. I also acknowledge the mountains, rivers and sacred areas of this district.

I greet those who have passed on, and the living gathered here.

To the Regional Council Chair, Barbara, and the Rūnanga rep, Lara, thank you for your invitation.

To the chiefs, Kerri and Memo, to the staff and all the nursing leaders gathered here (which is all of you), greetings.

Who am I?

I hail from Dunedin. I grew up here at the foot of Mt Cargill and by the Water of Leith.

My ancestors belonging to Clan Stewart and Clan Sanderson. They arrived here on board the ship Cornwall in 1849. The son of Don and Helen, my name is Grant Brookes.

I recall this saying of Kai Tahu: “It is work that devours people, as greenstone wears down sandstone”. In sharing this whakataukī, I acknowledge the mana whenua of the local iwi. It also gives rise to the purpose of today: we are all gathered for the building of productive workplaces. When nurses are at the forefront, care is transformed.

So greetings, greetings, greetings to you all.


It’s great to be back home. Whenever I set foot here, I feel more connected. I can visit the frail elderly, dear members of my extended family. The 2018 centenary of my old high school, visible outside there through the trees, seems that much closer. I am able to go back to the wards where I spent my clinical placements as a young nursing student.

“It is work that devours people, as greenstone wears down sandstone”. True?

I think many here would acknowledge it. I spent yesterday afternoon with three of you – Barbara Findlay, Linda Smillie and Robyn Hewlett – talking with members of the nursing and midwifery team across Dunedin Hospital.


We heard some of them say, “we’re okay”.

But without exception, they would add, “we’re lucky”. They believed that their shift, or their workplace, was an exception.

More common were comments like:

  • “I didn’t get a break today, or yesterday”
  • “We spend so long looking for equipment that works”
  • “Our patients are ‘going commando’ today. They’re naked under the sheets, because we don’t have enough linen”
  • “Trendcare shows us 20 hours short, and nothing happens”
  • “We did the time and motion studies, for Care Capacity Demand Management. They showed we were short staffed. That was three years ago. We’re still waiting for the extra staff”
  • “When someone rings in sick, they aren’t replaced”
  • “There just aren’t enough nurses in the Resource Team to fill the gaps in the roster”
  • “Our new grads don’t want to work here. They’re going to Australia”
  • “If someone leaves, it can take months before a new person starts”
  • “It’s like a factory in here. It’s not about the patient, it’s all about clearing the beds”
  • “Three years ago we had a big stop work meeting. The managers took notice and things got better, for a while. I feel like we’re back where we started”
  • “Nobody smiles here any more”
  • “I’m just holding on for retirement”

These comments are in line with research findings for DHBs nationwide contained in the NZNO Employment Survey 2017, published last month. The research shows some similarities and some differences in Aged Care, Private Hospitals and Primary Health Care workplaces.

And yet our vision for nursing is something different. We aspire, as NZNO together, to be “Freed to care, proud to nurse” – in productive workplaces.

How do we get there, from here?

Building productive workplaces requires a multi-faceted approach.

Over the course of today, we will hear about “workplace culture and engagement for improvement” from Jane Wilson of the Southern DHB Commissioner’s Office. We’ll learn more about “The importance of workplace relationships in times of stress and pressure” from Shireen Tresslor of Otago Community Hospice. NZNO professional nursing adviser Lorraine Ritchie will talk about “Promoting positive workplace culture”.

Many of us will want to know more about “Dealing with bullying and harassment in the workplace”, the focus of NZNO educator Jenny Crighton. And we will learn from each other, as NZNO members together, when NZNO industrial advisor Mike Yeats presents on “How we are transforming the workplace”.

I will use the short time available to me now to highlight one more facet of the multi-faceted approach.

Lifting productivity requires investment. This truth has been repeated for decades by politicians, business leaders and by the Council of Trade Unions.

And yet, it has not been heeded, at least in our workplaces. Annual increases in government health funding have failed to keep up with population growth and other cost pressures. Using Treasury figures, CTU economist Bill Rosenberg has calculated that the cumulative shortfall means that health is now underfunded by $1.85 billion, compared with 2009 funding levels.

Kerri, Memo and I meet twice a year with the Minister of Health. We have presented him with evidence for the need for greater investment. On its own, this has not been enough.

Recognition of the impact of underinvestment on workplace productivity – on our own stress and burnout, and on the people we care for – led the Board of Directors to decide last year that health funding would be a major campaign focus for NZNO in 2016/17.

It fits with focus areas in the NZNO Strategic Plan 2015-2020, including:

  • “Actively campaign for safe staffing and healthy workplaces to ensure patient safety and workforce wellbeing”
  • “Actively campaign, lobby employers and the Government to allocate sufficient funding in a consistent and transparent manner to enable and optimise ongoing professional development for all members of the nursing team”
  • “Campaign for employers to implement systems for safe staffing in the workplace”

Two weeks ago, the YesWeCare roadshow arrived in Dunedin. Some of you helped to assemble life-size cut-outs at the Railway Station, representing the missing health workers who are needed to ensure safe staffing, safe care, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. YesWeCare is a coalition of health unions and consumer groups, which has grown as the roadshow moved north up the country. NZNO supports YesWeCare because it’s in tune with our own campaign for a fully-funded health system, Shout Out For Health.

In the build-up to DHB MECA bargaining and the general election in September, we are taking our Shout Out message to all decision-makers and all political parties.

Last month, the two main opposition parties announced “Budget Responsibility Rules” which would tightly restrict government spending in any future Labour/Green government. These rules are not good enough. We support CTU president Richard Wagstaff’s call for “higher levels of government activity and investment than these rules permit.”

“There is”, said Richard, “an urgent need”.

At the same time, we’re calling on the current government to restore the $1.85 billion missing from health in next month’s Budget.

Our campaign is already having an impact. In a Newshub story about the YesWeCare campaign on 3 March, prime minister Bill English said, “Discussions are under way right now about the next Budget. So yeah, we do pay attention to the views of people on the front line because they’re a pretty good measure of what’s happening.”

So we know what works. Now we need to step it up.

Today, Kerri and I are launching the latest phase in this campaign – an open letter to New Zealand voters. It asks everyone to make health funding their first priority this election.

Shout Out for Health is different to other NZNO campaigns. It aims to empower you, the NZNO members, to carry out your own campaign ideas, with support. But something else that Barbara, Linda, Robyn found at Dunedin Hospital yesterday is that nurses are tired. It’s hard for them to find the energy to participate in campaigning activities.

So Kerri and I are leading another piece of work, along with the Board, to improve volunteer sustainability, member engagement and leadership development within NZNO. To begin with, we have decided to reinstate the training day for new chairs and treasurers of Regional Councils, Colleges and Sections.

This month and next, a small number of focus groups will be held, to find out from members what else would enable you to get more involved in NZNO’s many and diverse areas of activity. Then resourcing will be allocated, to support our volunteers. Next steps will be discussed at a meeting for all chairs at the NZNO AGM in September.

Sustainability and leadership development may also extend to greater support for Board members. And let me give a big plug right now for all of you to vote online in the Board elections, by noon this Friday.

Together, we can achieve our vision. The challenge is large. But with nurses at the forefront, we will transform care.

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

3 thoughts on “‘Freed to care & proud to nurse, in productive workplaces’ – Speech to NZNO Southern Regional Convention

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