100 years of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation

Published: Fri 18 Jun 2010 09:56 AM
Hon Tariana Turia
Associate Minister of Health
Thursday 17 June 2010; 6.30pm
Freed to care: Proud to Nurse : 100 years of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation
Pipitea Marae, Wellington
This is a wonderful occasion to be celebrating the difference that nurses, midwives, health care workers and other health professionals make to the health and wellbeing of all people in Aotearoa.
And it is absolutely appropriate that we celebrate a century of care as we embark upon the Maori New Year - what we in Whanganui know of as Puanga - and what other iwi may call Matariki.
Puanga was the time in which people gathered together, stored kai, prepared the ground for future crops to prepare for the cold months ahead. It is a time to share our stories, to embrace in the warmth of our whanau, to learn of our history, our culture, our heritage.
It is a perfect time to reflect on our journey together, in building the highest level of optimal wellness for all our people.
I love the aspiration of Te Runanga o Aotearoa : hei oranga motuhake mo nga whanau me nga hapu me nga iwi. It is that highest level of health - as determined by our whanau, hapu and iwi.
Their mission states the case for a model of health which is not just about the standards of care and the outcomes specified within the profession - but it also places priority on the collective responsibility of our families to protect hauora as a goal for life.
It is, at its essence, the expression of Whanau Ora - our determination to care for our own, to restore to ourselves the fullest potential of health and wellbeing.
That sense of a shared commitment to health is in sharp contrast to the medical hierarchies and clinical dominance which shaped our early development in the nursing profession.
The book takes us back to 1909 to the very origins of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation in which Hester Maclean, the Health Department's assistant inspector of hospitals called a meeting of the four trained nurses associations of New Zealand.
It is somewhat remarkable that Kaitiaki - the journal for nurses - was also born at this same time - and I congratulate you all for the efforts made to maintain such an excellent publication.
Mary Ellen O'Connor - the author of this great book - introduces us to some of the key characters who have influenced the progress of nursing in Aotearoa. Sibylla Emily Maude (known of course as Nurse Maude) would walk many miles every day, often carrying basic cooking and cleaning equipment; helping those who were too poor to pay for care.
The story of Akenehi Hei, of Whakatohea and Te Whanau-A-Apanui is also fascinating. Akenehi was the first nurse and midwife to register under her Maori name. There had been Mereana Tangata before her - also known as Mary Ann Leonard - but when the register was opened she was simply entered as No 252.
Supported by Sir Apirana Ngata, Akenehi Hei was in every way a pioneer - working doggedly against the odds, often getting little support from officials concerned with minimising costs - and a government not fully committed to Maori health.
At the turn of the century the ethos of nursing - while based on the ideals espoused by Florence Nightingale - was also one in which doctors were dominant and women, including matrons, had limited status and power.
In fact there is a classic statement early on in the book
"Questioning authority was not encouraged; it was regarded as insubordination or disobedience and often resulted in dismissal".
That one sentence probably explains why I didn't have a long nursing career!
And contrary to public perception - no - the photos of nurses at Whanganui Hospital in 1920 are not of me.
I almost completed my three years nursing training - but even in those days Whanau Ora was always my priority - and when a young man called George proposed, the prospect of becoming Mrs Turia knocked my nursing aspirations out of the way.
In those times you couldn't be married and be a nurse. Marriage was frowned upon, as of course you couldn't be devoted both to a husband and a career all at the same time.
In fact as late as 1967, the Minister of Health of the day, Donald McKay, spoke at the Registered Nurses Association conference, asking
"why your profession cannot or will not accommodate itself to the natural and inevitable in life".
But if being married attracted fears and prejudices, an even greater novelty occurred in the sixties when male nurses were permitted to attend the post-graduate school and were accepted as members of this Association.
One letter to the Auckland Star at that time raised the question
"for who would want a male nurse messing about when he could suffer in the presence of ministering angels?".
The reward for ministering angels has never been sufficient to recognise the complexity of patient care, and the workload intensification which was required - and it is an issue which has continued over the century right to the current day.
An interesting letter appeared in the mid 80s in Kai Tiaki signed off by fourteen working girls of K Road. The letter arose after the president of the Auckland Medical Association commented publically that prostitutes were being more professional than striking nurses.
The working girls thanked the president, Dr Stuart Ferguson, for the positive comments about their profession, but ended by saying
"Nurses get one tenth of our hourly wage and often perform less pleasant duties. We therefore support them in their struggle for better working conditions".
Of course it wasn't just who was doing the nursing that raised eyebrows - or the conditions of the nursing workload- it was also the nature of the nursing that was done.
Within the leaves of this wonderful history, there is a full page advertisement depicting Marjorie McKenna aged seven and then aged sixteen. It is a classic before and after shot.
At the age of seven years old Marjorie was suffering from the most serious form of wasting, a state of extreme emaciation and exhaustion. And then.... along came Virol - and suddenly she was restored to perfect health.
It is one of the clearest contrasts of the medical model compared to our focus today on health promotion, on prevention and intervention; and on a collective responsibility to care.
But when I think of all the developments in nursing over the century, particularly the shift from tertiary to primary care, one of the most distinctive movements for us in Aotearoa is that of course relating to cultural competency.
There is the most stunning painting of Dr Irihapeti Ramsden right in the middle of this book.
Robyn Kahukiwa's work of art - called Kawa Whakaruruhau after the Cultural Safety initiative that Irihapeti pioneered - literally took my breath away.
Both of these wonderful women have inspired me throughout my life.
Within that one painting we see a cloak of protection, the Treaty of Waitangi; Te Manawa Maori and above all the utter strength and innate beauty of Irihapeti.
It is a wonderful image of all that we could ever aspire to be - to know that we have lived by the highest possible standards of professional nursing practice; to contribute to the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders; to be freed to care, proud to nurse.
I am delighted to celebrate one hundred years of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation - and this fabulous book. In fact I am greatly looking forward to being able to devour the detail of this history, to become familiar with more of the stories that have shaped our development over the decades.
Of course we have immense challenges ahead of us, as we continue to develop sector capability and innovation; as we work to confront some of the persistent challenges in health inequalities; and we do all of this within a context of tight fiscal restraints and an increasing need for collaboration.
The focus of NZNO on our nursing past, present and future provides us with a rich foundation to continue to educate ourselves and to increase our competency and our capacity to care.
I congratulate the Centennial Project Committee on your initiative and I honour all of you gathered here tonight who have done so much to achieve the highest quality of nursing, midwifery and healthcare in New Zealand.

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