When NZNO’s board of directors agreed to make health funding a major campaign focus in the 2016/17 year, I had visions of members taking all sorts of individual and collective action.
I never imagined us assembling 200 life-size cut-outs of health workers, made of white plastic.
One rainy day last month, however, that’s exactly what we did, when the YesWeCare roadshow rolled into Wellington. NZNO supports YesWeCare because it’s in tune with our own member-led campaign for a fully-funded health system, Shout Out For Health.
Both campaigns start with the same idea. Politicians and union leaders have been saying health is underfunded by $1.8 billion this year, relative to 2009 funding levels.
But it’s human stories about what underfunding means for an individual staff member or patient that motivate action.
By the time the YesWeCare roadshow got underway, almost 6000 people had responded to their survey. Half were NZNO members. Many shared heart-breaking stories from the front line.
I still do shifts on the ward. But working full time at NZNO, I didn’t feel I had enough recent experience of the health system to complete the survey. So I’d like to share a personal story now about what health underfunding means to me.
I believe that the health needs of the peoples of Aotearoa/New Zealand are the basis for nursing and a core reason for our campaigns.
But what has touched me personally over the last two years has been the thousands of NZNO members I’ve met and talked with. I’ve heard your stories.
I know that many of you don’t go home on time. Sometimes you’re there for hours after the end of your shift or working day, still writing your notes. If you’re lucky, you won’t have problems getting paid for it. I know that nagging feeling when you go home, that you’ve let someone down again – a workmate or a patient or resident – because you didn’t have enough time.
There’s no cover when you’re sick, so either you go in, or your colleagues carry the extra load. When someone resigns, it takes a long time before they’re replaced – if at all. Amidst all the pressure, you witness (or suffer) someone taking it out on more junior colleagues.
I know medications aren’t always given when they should be, and personal cares get skipped. You spend ages looking for equipment, or trying to make old equipment work.
In the community, you’re picking up work that should have been done before discharge. In mental health, some days you’re just waiting for violence to happen to self or others.
The frustration and the hurt are sometimes unbearable. And what makes it worse, you can see how the system could work better, with just a little extra funding.
Sometimes NZNO members write to me, asking what they should do. Most of the time, after I’ve clicked reply, I feel I haven’t done enough to help. As the president of NZNO, there ought to be something more I can do. This is what underfunding means to me.
Those of us with more ability to make a difference do have more responsibility to act. But the problem is too big for any one person to solve. So I am motivated by your stories to join and support collective action, and to help lead NZNO, as a whole, to do the same.
In the lead-up to DHB MECA bargaining and the general election, we’re taking our messages to all decision-makers and political parties.
Labour and the Greens have announced “Budget responsibility rules”, for tightly restricting government spending. These aren’t good enough. We support CTU president Richard Wagstaff’s call for “higher levels of government activity and investment than these rules permit. There is an urgent need”.
At the same time, we want the current government to restore the missing $1.8 billion in next month’s Budget.
Our campaign is having an impact. Prime minister Bill English has responded to YesWeCare, saying: “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”
And we’ve only just begun.
(An abridged version of this blog was published in the April 2017 issue of Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand)