Newtown Union Health Service – Chairperson’s report to the 2021 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 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 five years as the Board Chairperson. Here is the report I gave to the 2021 AGM, held earlier this month.

We were fortunate to have two fabulous guest speakers from the community at our AGM – self-described “D-Grade celebrity” Karen O’Leary, and Labour MP Ibrahim Omer

He waka eke noa”. “We are all in this together”. One year ago, in the 2019/20 Annual Report, I observed that the arrival of Covid-19 in Aotearoa had strongly shaped the year for NUHS, just as it had for the country as a whole. As we continue to play our part in the “Team of Five Million”, the pandemic has influenced our Service for another year. This influence has been felt in many ways – from driving practice innovations like a shift to virtual consultations, to opening up new funding streams or reducing international student numbers and patient enrolments at our Massey University clinic.

Patient enrolments at Massey at the end of 2020/21 were 1,524, down from 2,074 when NUHS took over the Massey clinic in May 2018. Income meanwhile was up, due to dedicated funding for Covid-related activity. This increase is the primary reason for the end of year surplus of $240,508. Excluding Covid-related activity, the end of year result would have been a deficit of $38,455. As some of these dedicated funding streams come to an end, the Board is planning for a deficit budget in 2021/22, but the Service remains in a strong financial position thanks to surpluses in each of the past five years. 

The other major environmental influence occupying the minds of the NUHS Board this year has been the Health and Disability System Review. In April, the Government released its long awaited response to the Review report. While some information about the new health system has been published by the Transition Unit, particularly about the replacement of District Health Boards by Health NZ and about the creation of the Māori Health Authority, less is known about the future of Primary and Community Care. The Board has been working with other union health services and with Tū Ora PHO to gather intelligence and strategise around how best to meet the needs of our community in the new environment. 

For our physical fixed assets, the Board was pleased this year to be able to secure the future of the premises at 14 Hall Avenue. The lease for the site has been renegotiated for another 20 years, with a right of renewal for five more years beyond that. This certainty enabled the Board to move ahead with a capital works programme. At the close of 2020/21, $328,752 had been spent on a new roof and other external remediation for the ageing NUHS building. This remediation work is expected to be completed in 2021/22, within the budget of $725,000, and should extend the life of the building until at least the end of the lease. Thinking will now turn to the future of the Broadway Clinic. 

Last year, the Board reviewed and adopted the new NUHS Strategic Plan 2020-25 and completed the update of the NUHS Constitution. This year, the focus at the governance level has been on implementing the new Constitution and revising the organisation’s governance policies.

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 is entirely voluntary and membership applications will be considered from supporters of the service who are not enrolled patients. This year, the Board created a membership register and an application process to manage membership applications. Under a sunset clause, current enrolled patients who have not applied to join the NUHS incorporated society will cease to be members on 28 August 2022.

At the close of the 2020/21 year, the Board was half way through revising the organisation’s governance policies. This includes development of a new process for electing the clinical staff members on the Board, in response to questions raised at the 2020 AGM. The intention is to complete the update of the remaining governance policies, and the finance policies, in the 2021/22 year. 

Collaboration with stakeholders continues to bear fruit. Joint work with Whitireia tertiary institute last year resulted in a set of four online learning packages in refugee health. This year, Nurse Practitioner Serena Moran co-presented on these packages at the Flexible Learning Association of NZ Conference. 

One of our union stakeholders, E tū, made a request for financial support for union members affected by industrial action at Lifewise. NUHS has a strong association and history with the union movement and was established with funding from trade unions. The interest from this legacy is the basis of an Industrial Action Support Fund. A $2,500 donation was made from this fund to the E Tū members. It is recorded here in the Annual Report, as required by NUHS governance policies. 

We have continued our excellent relationship with University of Otago, Wellington, contributing to medical student teaching and research. The Board acknowledges especially Dr Ben Gray, who retired in November after 27 years as a GP at NUHS but continues as an Associate Professor in the university’s Primary Health Care and General Practice Department. There he teaches alongside NUHS GP Dr Jonathan Kennedy and Nurse Practitioner Serena Moran.

2020/21 has also been another year of achievements for NUHS and our staff. Our service was a finalist for GENPRO General Practice of the Year at the 2021 Primary Health Care Awards He Tohu Mauri Ora. NUHS staff continue to be sought out for their expertise and advice, particularly around working with refugee background communities in Primary Care. 

On the Board itself, composition continues to evolve. Most notably this year, we farewelled community representative Ibrahim Omer after his election as a Member of Parliament in 2020. We congratulate Ibrahim on becoming New Zealand’s first African MP. We know he is committed to the health and wellbeing of communities like ours and we wish him all the best in his political career. 

At the 2020 AGM, Tim Rochford was elected to fill the community representative vacancy. Then in May 2021, union representative Sam Gribben stepped down, for family reasons. The Council of Trade Unions is nominating Sam’s successor. 

I acknowledge too the remaining Board members who have worked with us this year – Tāngata Whenua rep Fiona Da Vanzo, community reps Barbara Lambourn 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. 

Lastly, this will be my final NUHS Chairperson’s Report. I have informed the Board that after five years in the role, I will be handing over to a new NUHS Chairperson before the 2022 AGM. The strengths I see in the governance, management and staff of NUHS fill me with confidence in its future. 

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa. 

Grant Brookes, Chairperson NUHS 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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