At this election, rise like lions!

First published in Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand, August 2017. Re-posted with permission.

There are now just a few weeks to go. The country is counting down to the general election, to be held on 23 September.

Health is political, and never more so than in 2017, when the impact of underfunding became intolerable for healthcare workers and the public we serve.

Every day we speak out about being short-staffed, about the sheer volume of admissions, referrals and presentations, about the lack of resources or risks to patient safety.

More often than not, it seems, our voices are ignored. We’re even told that there is no underfunding or resource shortages, so we’re either imagining things or it’s our fault our workload is unmanageable.

But at election time, at least, the politicians have to listen to us.

For the last couple of years, people around the world have been using the ballot box to express their rejection of ruling elites and establishment politicians. This populist wave has brought down the mighty, catapulted political outsiders to centre stage.

NZNO does not advise members who to vote for. But since kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku and I launched NZNO’s Open letter to New Zealand voters in April, we have been encouraging every member to “shout out for health”, to help make health funding the top priority this election.

NZNO is publishing a manifesto containing other policies, too, because health outcomes are fundamentally determined by access to social and economic opportunities: a liveable income, safe and decent work, affordable housing, education, adequate and nutritious food, and clean, healthy and sustainable environments.

Regardless of who wins the election, we’ll be urging the next government to prioritise:

• A sustainable, fully utilised nursing workforce

• Investment in public health

• A primary health care approach to improving population health

• Oranga Tamariki – the health and well-being of children and young persons

• Safe clinical environments

• Fair employment

• Social and health equity, within Aotearoa, the Asia-Pacific Region and globally

Voting once every three years will not be enough, on its own, to achieve our ultimate goal — a health system where every patient knows that when they need care, they will see the right health professional, with the right skill, in the right place, at the right time.

Other kinds of activity are needed, too, like writing letters, making submissions, getting to meetings and joining protests. But as the populist wave overseas has shown, for better or worse voting does make a difference.

One of the most unlikely scenes it has produced was this year at Glastonbury, the United Kingdom’s famous annual rock music festival. A youthful crowd of around 120,000 cheered as a 68 year-old, grey-haired politician read from a 200 year-old poem.

The poem Jeremy Corbyn chose to read is also my all-time favourite. So my message to NZNO members, from now until the election, is the same:

Rise, like lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number!

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you:

Ye are many—they are few!”

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