Newtown Union Health Service – Chairperson’s report to the 2020 AGM

Newtown Union Health Service is a not-for-profit community service providing healthcare for community service card holders, low income earners, union members and their families. NUHS is community owned and has provided affordable, accessible, appropriate, quality, not-for-profit and community based primary health care in Wellington since May 1987. Established with the support of local trade unions, two seats on the NUHS Policy Board are reserved for representatives endorsed by the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions Te Kauae Kaimahi. Since 2013, I have filled one of these positions – serving for the last four years as the Policy Board Chairperson. In the interests of getting the NUHS story out more widely, it was agreed by the Policy Board that I may re-publish my report to the 2020 AGM on this blog. The entire NUHS Annual Report 2019/20 is available online here.


“He waka eke noa – We are all in this together”. The story of NUHS over the past year has been inseparable from the story of Aotearoa New Zealand, as we united against Covid-19 and for healthy communities. Although the first known infection of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in this country did not occur until two thirds of the way through 2019/20, the pandemic strongly shaped our year as a whole. 

The role of NUHS staff as essential front-line health workers against the virus was recognised and accorded a higher priority. An immediate increase in Covid-19 Response and Sustainability Funding enabled NUHS to react quickly to making sure we had the tools needed to continue providing a health service while keeping patients safe. NUHS was also contracted by Tū Ora PHO to provide an Outreach Service in Strathmore and Kilbirnie, the Mobile Swabbing service for the Wellington area and to start delivering a Covid-19 Pacific Response Package for Pacific peoples.

Some differences in timing of income and expenditure relating to the Covid-19 response contributed to an end of year surplus of $257,444, against a break-even Budget. The pandemic also made the introduction of a Hardship Fund in the 2019/20 Budget, for patients experiencing financial difficulties as a result of health care costs, particularly timely. 

As the operational team under the management of Fiona Osten adopted new ways of working under changing Covid-19 alert levels, the Policy Board provided monitoring and oversight of compliance with the evolving restrictions and guidelines. A particular focus for the Policy Board, under alert levels 2 to 4, was compliance with health and safety guidelines for NUHS staff. 

The pandemic also impacted on longer-term projects. Major work to extend the life of the building at 14 Hall Avenue, due to take place this year, was not able to begin. The Policy Board was able to allocate funding, however, so that a new roof and other external remediation is expected to be completed in 2020/21, without recourse to borrowing. 

Long-term work in our wider environment was affected, as well. In 2018/19, the Government responded favourably to 38 of the 40 recommendations in the Report of the Mental Health and Addictions Inquiry, He Ara Oranga, including several with ramifications for our service. However, implementation of these recommendations this year was delayed firstly by the pandemic and then by the approach of the general election.

It was a similar story with the Health and Disability Services Review. We were fortunate to receive some early insights into this review from panel member Margaret Southwick, who spoke at our 2019 AGM. When the final report was released in June, the Government accepted the direction of travel outlined in the Review, but detail of the changes will not become clear until the new Government gets to work after the election.

Yet by pulling together, the Policy Board did achieve some long-term goals this year. Work on updating the Constitution, which began back in 2014, was finally brought to a conclusion when the new NUHS Constitution was approved at the 2019 AGM. A major change to membership criteria means that membership of the NUHS incorporated society is no longer automatic for, or limited to, enrolled patients. Under the new Constitution, membership will now be voluntary and membership applications will be considered from supporters of the service who are not enrolled patients. These changes were prompted and guided by legal advice from Oakley Moran on current best practice for incorporated societies. Processes to operationalise the new membership system were developed over the course of 2019/20 and will be implemented in time for the 2020 AGM. 

Long-proposed governance training was undertaken. And work on reviewing and updating the organisation’s strategic plan was also completed. The new NUHS Strategic Plan 2020-25, as approved by the Policy Board, is appended to this report. 

Our efforts to seek wider unity with stakeholders has also borne fruit. Joint work with Whitireia tertiary institute this year to develop online learning packages for Primary Health Care Nurses has resulted in a set of four Refugee Health Modules. Further Nurse Education Learning Modules are planned. 

Our relationship with Tū Ora Compass PHO continues to deepen, too. We have appreciated the opportunity to participate in discussions around changing the voting system for the election of PHO Board members. And our role in the Riddiford House Incorporated Society, of which NUHS is a member, has expanded to take on the secretariat function.

We continued our excellent relationship with University of Otago, Wellington medical student teaching, including being adaptable and innovative in changes prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. A growing relationship with Wesley Community Action bodes well for the future.

2020/21 has also been a year of individual achievements at NUHS. Serena Moran successfully completed all of the requirements laid down by the Nursing Council of New Zealand Te Kaunihera Tapuhi o Aotearoa to become our first Nurse Practitioner (NP). The requirements include a minimum of 300 hours of clinical supervision from another NP or senior doctor, which NUHS GP Dr Jonathan Kennedy was proud to provide.

Nurse Fou Etuale joined the team of Nurse Vaccinators sent to Samoa by the New Zealand Government to help with the measles outbreak. And three NUHS staff were recognised in the inaugural Primary Health Care Awards He Tohu Mauri Ora. Dianne Theobald was runner up for Practice Nurse of the Year. Pharmacist Linda Bryant won the Green Cross Health Award for Outstanding Contribution to Health while Dr Nikki Turner was runner-up for the same award. 

The composition of the Policy Board has remained largely stable in 2019/20, as it was in the previous financial year, with gradual evolutions rather than wholesale changes in our line-up. At the 2019 AGM, the Policy Board farewelled our inaugural community representative from the Massey University student body, Jacob Paterson. Fortunately, his Massey University successor elected at that meeting, Amy Palmer, has made an equally valuable contribution. 

At the end of the 2020/21 year, we were saddened but also happy to farewell community representative Ibrahim Omer, who stepped aside after being named as a list candidate for the Labour Party. We congratulate Ibrahim on his journey to become New Zealand’s first African MP, in the certain knowledge that he carries the health and wellbeing of the people in his heart. 

I acknowledge too the remaining Board members who have helped us unite this year for health – Tāngata Whenua rep Fiona Da Vanzo, union rep Sam Gribben, community reps Barbara Lambourne and Roger Shaw and Treasurer Julie Lamb. I am also grateful to Board Minute Taker Vanessa Gray and Finance Leader Giordano Rigutto, whose support has underpinned our collective achievements.

Nō reira, me maumahara tātou ki tēnei whakatauki, “Ko te toki tē tangatanga i te rā. He toki, he tāngata” So at this time, let’s all remember this saying, “We are the adze whose bindings cannot be loosened by the sun. People together grow in strength”. 

Grant Brookes, Chairperson NUHS Policy Board

Published by grantbrookes

Kia ora! I’m Grant Brookes, a Nurse, Trade Unionist and NZNO past President now living in Wellington, New Zealand with my partner and two children and blogging at unionnursegrant.org. Since graduating in 1996, I’ve practised nursing in five cities in three countries. I’ve belonged to four nursing unions – and been a rep in three of them. This is my new blog. There’s more about me and my time as President at nznogrant.org.

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