The board that kicked the hornet's nest

A district nurse checks the medication of a palliative care patient. (File photo)
FAIRFAX NZ

A district nurse checks the medication of a palliative care patient. (File photo)

Moving district nurses to the health hub in Blenheim has become a battle that appears to have taken the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board by surprise. Reporter Jennifer Eder takes a look at why the move has many Marlburians up in arms.

"It's going to be like shifting a hive of hornets ... You're going to get a lot of stings," Reg Taylor warns.

Taylor is speaking at a public meeting that is supposed to be about the future of the region's healthcare.

But most people seem more interested in confronting board members about a proposed plan to move the district nurses from Wairau Hospital, in Blenheim, to the health hub in town.

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Tensions are rising. People accuse the board of wasting money, inadequate reporting, and "self-gratification".

If relocated to the health hub in Blenheim, the district nurses will work in an area with a similar fit-out to the ...
FAIRFAX NZ

If relocated to the health hub in Blenheim, the district nurses will work in an area with a similar fit-out to the section opened in 2015.

Taylor, a retiree of Blenheim, gets regular visits from the nurses and says while they can't talk publicly, they tell him they don't want to go anywhere.

"Morale is very low ... at the moment, your staff are not happy," he tells board chief executive Dr Peter Bramley at the meeting.

"Please be assured," Bramley says. "We're absolutely wanting to champion the cause of our district nurses. We understand how crucial they are. The district nurses encouraged a review."

Nelson Marlborough District Health Board Dr Peter Bramley says an independent review into moving district nurses is underway.
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Nelson Marlborough District Health Board Dr Peter Bramley says an independent review into moving district nurses is underway.

A man near the front doesn't buy it.

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"It would have just gone ahead if it wasn't for us," he says.

The board is travelling the district to share progress towards a final draft of the new Primary and Community Health Strategy.

The board is reconsidering moving district nurses to the health hub on Queen St, in the former FloorPride Civic Theatre ...
RICKY WILSON/FAIRFAX NZ

The board is reconsidering moving district nurses to the health hub on Queen St, in the former FloorPride Civic Theatre building.

Bramley sets out the district's challenges and possible solutions at the Rangitane Cultural Centre in Grovetown on Wednesday afternoon. 

But audience input is minimal until Bramley moves on to the district nurses.

District nurses work with GPs, hospitals and community groups to care for people in their homes.

Board member Gerald Hope says he promises to make the best decision for the community. (File photo)
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

Board member Gerald Hope says he promises to make the best decision for the community. (File photo)

"We love our district nurses and we are committed to the work those nurses are doing in our workplace," Bramley says.

"The whole desire of moving the district nursing team is to get them out into the community."

To cope with the increasing demand on hospital resources, the board wants to move some services away from the hospital, and moving the district nurses is in line with that strategy, Bramley says.

He admits the board could have handled the proposed move better.

But then, perhaps the board did not expect an outcry.

The board moved district nurses from Nelson Hospital to the Richmond health hub two years ago, and there was no uprising of nurses nor patients.

But Marlborough's district nurses say they want to stay in the space they helped design eight years ago.

The Wairau Hospital development housed social workers, physiotherapists and dieticians alongside the nurses.

They told the media in 2009 they were thrilled to be in a new custom-built building, just a short stroll away from hospital staff.

Bramley tells an increasingly vocal crowd the district nurses in Nelson love being in the hub in Richmond.

"And they're out there in the community."

But that may not be the model that works for Blenheim, he says.

The board has launched an external review of the nurses' proposed move.

Health professionals from outside the district will be in Marlborough next week, interviewing nurses and consumer groups.

"As long as you're listening," an audience member says.

"It's crap," another shouts.

"I hear what you're saying," Bramley says, holding up his hands. 

Another man demands answers.

"I came along here today to hear benefits. I haven't heard one yet," he says.

"It's three kilometres from Wairau Hospital to the hub in town. Car parking is an issue not just for us patients, but what about the nurses? It's a health and safety issue you haven't identified, if they're parking in the parking building on Alfred St and taking their toolboxes to the hub, what about security?

"There's idiots in this town that will think there's drugs in there."

Renwick man Allan Newman says the board can save a lot of money by keeping the nurses where they are.

"And there's an X-ray just down the hall if you need it."

He has lost toes to diabetes and says the district nurses that treat him use the hospital staff and equipment frequently.

"They're in a perfectly designed facility to provide the services the patients need. It's just stupid to move them."

Board member Gerald Hope gets up in an attempt to calm the situation.

"I want to reassure you this is not a pre-determined decision ... Everything will be based on evidence.

"I'm not a cynic, I'm an optimist - my name is Hope. I will be making the decision that will be best for the community, that is my promise."

Fellow board member Dr Brigid Forrest tries to put it all into perspective.

"We are having to deal with the entire health needs of the entire population of Marlborough. 

"We have to make that money spread over the entire population. We know we can't give you everything and that's something we have to face every day. We have to look at doing things differently because I don't think the Budget is going to give us much [on Thursday]."

There's a quiet moment as the reality facing the board sinks in.

Then a woman at the back pipes up. "Well then, however much money it's taking to move those girls, don't move them and put the money into other things."

The meeting is coming to a close. Neither side of the debate is making progress.

The fate of the Marlborough Primary Health Organisation has not been raised at all. 

Chairman Alistair Sowman has just announced four board members have suddenly resigned.

They are Helen Pauley, Kirsten Tucker, Nita van Grinsven and Peter Tolan. Pauley and van Grinsven have declined to comment, and Tucker and Tolan could not be reached.

Two new members will be co-opted to the board to keep it running until the AGM in September, where new members will be elected by the community, Sowman says.

He admits it is unusual timing for four people to step down at once.

Sowman says their reasons for leaving are largely because they're juggling too many jobs, though one member is away on maternity leave.

There is already speculation that the mass exodus is linked to the district nurses' move, but Sowman says that is not what their resignation letters say.

Although he has not spoken to them in person yet, he says.

"There could be other reasons."

 - The Marlborough Express

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