‘An urgent need: Investing in productive workplaces’ – Speech to NZNO Canterbury/West Coast 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 Cheryl, me te mangai-ā-rohe o Te Rūnanga o Aotearoa NZNO, ko Ruth, tēnā kōrua. Ngā whakawhetai ki a kōrua mō tā kōrua pōwhiri.

E te rangatira, Kerri, 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 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 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 acknowledge those who have passed on since we last gathered together. At this time I remember Sharon Williams, former Chair of the Canterbury Regional Council. I worked alongside Sharon on the Board of Directors in 2012-13. Only later did I learn of her long service to health – as a volunteer, hospital aide, Enrolled Nurse and Registered Nurse. Sharon was a great believer in fairness at work for all. She became an NZNO delegate at Burwood Hospital in 2001 and that same year, took on the role of worksite convenor, continuing in this role for the next six years. I also want to acknowledge Daryl Godsiff, who passed away shortly after. Daryl received the Service to NZNO Award in 2002. He is remembered as an Enrolled Nurse, a delegate and a leader at Burwood Hospital.

We honour them by carrying on their work, and so I greet, too, the living gathered here.

To the Regional Council Chair, Cheryl, and the Rūnanga rep, Ruth, thank you for your invitation.

To the chief, Kerri, 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 arrived 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 always good to be back on the Mainland, in Te Waipounamu. I called this city home for a time, when I moved north from Dunedin and took my first job after leaving school. The city is so changed now. The loss of old familiarity and solid grounding must be a stressor for those born and raised here, to be overcome by strength of community and shared experience.

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

I think many here would acknowledge it. I spent yesterday afternoon with some of you, talking with members of the nursing and midwifery team around the city. I spoke with nurses at all levels, from new grads on the floor to senior managers.


Canterbury DHB is a large organisation. I was only able to glimpse a small snapshot yesterday, at Hillmorton, Princess Margaret and Burwood Hospitals, and to speak with some West Coast DHB delegates last night.

I heard some staff say, “we’re okay”. But they would add, “we’re not as badly off as some other wards”. They saw themselves as an exception to the rule.

More common were comments like these:

  • “We’re getting an extra 200 admissions per month, across mental health, compared to pre-earthquake levels”
  • “We’re five nurses short on this ward and four nurses short on that ward.”
  • “The problem is just short staffing. It’s global, all over the hospital.”
  • “We’re recruiting all the time. We just can’t find enough staff. The problem is that our supply of UK nurses has dried up.”
  • “Our nurses are doing a great job, but they’re tired.”
  • “The managers are stuck in the middle. They’ve got all these demands coming down from government, and staff who can’t meet the demands.”
  • “Nurses are working a lot of extra hours to cover the gaps in the roster. We’re all tired.”
  • “People don’t like ‘getting sold’ to other wards. Sometimes they’ll say, ‘I went last time, it’s someone else’s turn’. We’re a tight team, but it’s making people snap at each other.” (I heard this word, “sold”, in a few wards here. In other DHBs, they talk instead about “being redeployed” when acuity is higher elsewhere).

Other comments I encountered:

  • “I’m acting up today, because our Charge Nurse rang in sick. I’m also covering for our social worker and for our cultural support worker, who also rang in sick, and I’ve got a full patient load.”
  • “We’re finding that our new graduates are not staying on after their first year. Some are heading off to Australia.”
  • “We’re losing resources all the time. Today we lost our van. If our patients can’t go on outings, it affects their mood and their rehabilitation.”
  • “I think it’s a 50-50 chance that we’ll lose another senior nurse position in the next 12 months.”
  • “We’re losing four medical beds, and half of our consulting rooms”.
  • “When they closed the beds they said they’d create a new service to provide care in the community. That was three years ago. The new service still hasn’t been established. What’s happened to the people we moved out? They’ve just become invisible.”

These comments are very similar to the things I heard at Southern DHB last week. Some are almost word for word.

They’re also in line with research findings for DHBs nationwide contained in the NZNO Employment Survey 2017, published last month. That research shows some similarities in Aged Care, Private Hospitals and Primary Health Care workplaces, and some differences.

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.

So far today, we’ve heard about the importance of workplace relationships and positive workplace culture from NZNO Professional Nurse Advisor Julia Anderson. Lisa Hurrell of Rolleston Medical Centre has encouraged us to step up to the challenge. And NZNO organiser Christin Watson – with the assistance of my former colleagues in NZNO’s DHB Sector leadership, Trisha Leith and Karen Marshall – have engaged us in dealing with bullying and harassment in the workplace.

After lunch, we’ll learn more about “The skills and knowledge needed in a productive workplace” from Tina Murphy of Greymouth ED and from Dr Paul Watson of Health Workforce New Zealand.

And we will learn from each other, as NZNO members together, in the presentation on “How we are transforming the workplace”.

I will use the short time left 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 Musa and I meet twice a year with the Minister of Health. We have presented him with evidence of 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.

Two weeks ago, the YesWeCare roadshow arrived in Christchurch, assembling life-size cut-outs at Princess Margaret Hospital, 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. Its next local event will be a public meeting on May 9 in the Transitional Cathedral. 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 YesWeCare on 3 March, prime minister Bill English was asked what he thought of the campaign. He 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.

Last week, Kerri and I launched 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. The letter is in your registration pack. We will hear more about it this afternoon.

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 I heard clearly at CDHB 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 in the NZNO budget, 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 announce our new Board members, elected last Friday, for those who have not heard. Maria Anderson is a Charge Nurse at Auckland City Hospital, and Monina Gesmundo is a lecturer at Massey University. They join current Board members – Cheryl Hanham, your Regional Council Chair, Cheryl Hammond from Whakatāne Hospital, Rosemary Minto, Nurse Practitioner from Tauranga, Jacob Panikkmannil from Starship Theatres, Tumu Whakarae Titihuia Pakeho, Pacific Nurses Section Chair Eseta Finau, Kerri and I.

Together – NZNO board, members and staff – 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.

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