Last night I attended the public meeting in Ngakawau about health provision for the communities north of Westport. The meeting was well organised, and there was plenty of passion shown around the importance of maintaining staffing levels. Representatives of the West Coast District Health Board, St John’s Ambulance and Buller Health answered questions from the floor. I’ll leave it to the locals to assess the responses received.
But I do want to comment on a concern that was shared by all: The importance of looking after our nurses. In a rural area it is the nurses who get to know the patients, they are the primary responders in emergencies, they are the ones on the ground, and often give of themselves beyond the call of duty. New Zealand is facing a national shortage of nursing staff. One of the worrying statistics shared at the meeting was that the average age of nurses is 50 – much higher than many other professions. How we look after our nurses will be a crucial factor for the future of healthcare. That applies to the DHB as employer, as well as to us as the receivers of nursing care.
It got me thinking about one of the early nurse pioneers in New Zealand. Sibylla Emily Maude was born in Christchurch in 1862. Known to many simply as “Nurse Maude” she dedicated herself to improving patient care from the age of 30. First, she advocated for reforms in Christchurch hospital. Later she pioneered district nursing, visiting patients in their homes, with a particular concern for the elderly, the poor and those who found it difficult to access healthcare provision.
Te Ara, the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, describes her like this:
“Dressed in a light-blue uniform and white apron with dark-blue cape and bonnet, Nurse Maude walked many miles every day in all weathers, carrying not only nursing equipment but often the pans for cooking, cleaning and washing which many people lacked. She tried to teach her patients the importance of cleanliness and fresh air, and as a woman of prayer she invariably prayed with them. Her short, sturdy figure and large, regular features were known throughout Christchurch. Although her manner was grave and almost forbidding, and she was often outspoken, she was loved for her selfless work for the poor.”
Nurse Maude’s approach was inspired by her Christian faith. She saw her work as a vocation, as a calling, something that God had placed on her heart. And for many nurses I know today, they feel a similar way. There are many questions to be asked in how we provide quality medical care on the Coast. But here are 2 key ones: How do we inspire a new generation of New Zealanders to choose nursing as a vocation? And for those who have chosen nursing, how do we support them to live out their calling in the rural areas as well as in the big cities?
Photo credit: Te Ara
This post first appeared as a church and community article in the Westport News on 15th March 2019
NZ Maori identify themselves by their local mountain and river, but I grew up in the south of England where the land is flat, and our local river - the Blackwater - lived up to its name as being one of the most polluted streams in the UK. So now I'm claiming the Buller River, or in te reo Maori the Kawatiri, as my own.