Inaction & distraction

30/06/2022

A year ago the government was warned that urgent action was needed to avert a health crisis:.

Newly released information shows that Health Minister Andrew Little ignored warnings a year ago about the risk of crippling health shortages, National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says.

“An urgent letter on behalf of all 20 DHBs was sent to health officials in July 2021 warning of impending health workforce shortages and requesting immediate changes to immigration settings.

“After receiving the letter warning of a looming storm about to hit the health sector, Andrew Little decided to ignore it and pushed on with his health restructure.

“The letter clearly outlines the danger of critical workforce shortages, the need for overseas trained staff, and an expected increase in demand in emergency departments. Unfortunately, this gloomy prognosis from the sector has come true.

“The Health Minister is failing at his core responsibility of ensuring New Zealanders have access to health care, all because he is distracted by his ideologically driven desire to restructure the health bureaucracy.

“New Zealanders are now missing out on health care because Minister Little has failed to act on warnings from the sector. Meanwhile, New Zealand is missing out on nurses to Australia because the Government has refused to put them on the fast-tracked residency pathway. Now we are dangerously 4,000 nurses short and have a health sector slowly falling apart at the seams.

“Andrew Little needs to explain why he didn’t listen to pleas from the sector last year about the coming workforce shortage, and why he didn’t take urgent action to bring more workers in from overseas.”

The government keeps boasting of the money it’s poured into health but it hasn’t gone where it’s needed:

We now know why Andrew Little isn’t resourcing Emergency Departments – because he has spent it all on consultants and contractors, National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says.

Last year the Ministry of Health reportedly hired 407 consultants and contractors but with a month still to go in the current reporting year that number has exploded to 1,359 – nearly 1,000 more.

“Our hospitals are at breaking point. We are desperately short of 4,000 nurses and the Government has hired 1,000 consultants to prop up their flailing health restructure.

“This is a slap in the face for aged residential care who are desperate for 1,000 nurses, DHBs who are desperate for 3,000 nurses, clinics who are desperate for 1,500 GPs and specialists who are 1,500 short.

“New Zealanders deserve better. Andrew Little needs to explain to patients waiting more than eight hours at Middlemore ED why an extra 1,000 consultants is more important than ED doctors and nurses.”

Dr Reti spoke outlined the failings in yesterday’s General Debate:

Thank you, Mr Speaker. We now know why more than more than 36,000 people are waiting more than four months to see a specialist. We now know why emergency department (ED) wait times have increased, with some people waiting more than 32 hours. We now know why we have a health workforce shortage—4,000 nurses, 1,500 GPs, and 1,500 specialists.

Because Andrew Little ignored the cry for help a year ago when a district health board (DHB) chief executive wrote, on behalf of every DHB, pleading for help, a letter with dire warnings and actions that were needed immediately to “avert a health crisis”. A year later, the chickens have come home to roost.

Let’s see if Andrew Little takes a general debate call this afternoon, 48 hours out from significant health reforms, which would be the convention with such a big structural change. Let’s see if that happens, and if he wants to defend what I’ll lay down on the table today. The Minister is trying to say he only found out about this letter a month ago. I do not believe that, and I want to challenge that on at least two points.

First of all, if the Minister didn’t know about the letter, he should have known about the letter. This letter was on behalf of every single chief executive in the DHB sector—that is, the most senior executive group in our hospitals—and they deserved his attention.

Secondly, very senior people in the Minister’s own ministry also received the letter—the ministry he is supposed to have oversight for. It was also sent to the acting Deputy Director-General of Health Workforce New Zealand on 28 July last year. It’s a very senior person, the Deputy Director-General, inside the Ministry of Health.

I contend that Andrew Little should have been aware, or was aware, of this letter from DHBs a year ago and he did nothing. The Minister was warned a year ago and did nothing. His track record in this sort of MO is well known. I’m inclined to remember ICU beds—warned about it, did nothing, and the dire consequence that came from doing nothing around ICU beds, and particularly building new ICU beds, particularly in Auckland.

The letter sent by 20 DHBs a year ago had multiple warnings. First, the health system is buckling, with some sites in code red. Directly from the letter: “You will be aware that our hospitals are also experiencing very high levels of occupancy at present, and some sites are even in code red, where they are deemed to be at extreme levels. This is obviously an unsustainable situation and places even more pressure on our existing workforce. We are very concerned about this situation and for the potential for further deterioration if there are no changes to assist with at least securing the existing workforce from 20 DHBs.”

Secondly, the letter also says, “We are also experiencing increased presentations in emergency departments.” They even sent graphs of what the occupancy rate looks like inside the EDs, showing the increasing trend towards what they call “extreme occupancy” across emergency departments a year ago, and here we are today with emergency department times increasing.

Point three, what the letter also says: “In order to respond to surge, the system will have to redirect workforce from areas like planned care.” That’s code for 36,000 people waiting more than four months to see a specialist. What’s really poignant is their last summary of that: “This will have long-term impacts on the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders.”

Point four, and here’s the immigration bit—here is what 20 DHBs were urgently asking for, which resonates what my colleague Erica Stanford has been talking about for a long time, in which we have a petition up at the moment. This is the summary to the letter: “Therefore, DHBs seek your immediate attention to (1) ensure our current overseas-trained staff can have a direct and prompt path to residency.” That’s not two years for registered nurses; that’s a direct and prompt path to residency. “And (2) that overseas health professionals are facilitated to enter New Zealand as required to avert a crisis in the health sector.”

Clearly that has failed. This was a warning a year ago that the Minister had and he did nothing. There’s now no money for ED nurses; no money for ED docs. Because what we also know is that instead of building the health workforce, the ministry has employed up to 1,000 new consultants—not even in the past year, just in the past 10 months is what the written parliamentary question shows. No money for ED nurses, no money for ED doctors, but plenty for up to 1,000 consultants.

It’s interesting looking at the list of consultants: corporate services, 78; data and digital, 728; the DG’s Office, 40; Health Workforce New Zealand, 10. I think that kind of sums it up right there. Just 10 in this bloated, excessive list of consultants. I rest my case.

The government kept telling us the Covid-19 lockdowns and other restrictions imposed on us were to stop the health system from being overwhelmed.

But in spite of those unprecedented losses of freedom, the health system is in crisis.

. . . The health system is in meltdown. Call it a crisis, or don’t. It is collapsing around us.

Healthcare staff are at the end of their rope – undervalued and underpaid for years, the wave of strikes is a cry for help. Most are distressed because they know people will die because they can’t access treatment.

As the system buckles, there is incredulity that Health Minister Andrew Little is pushing ahead with a bureaucratic overhaul. Doctors are being asked to work – unpaid – on groups advising the ministry on how to bed in the new regime. No-one seems to know how it will work – the changes are yet another burden that the workforce cannot absorb. . . 

People who move can’t register with a general practitioner and those who have one wait days, sometimes weeks, for an appointment.

Emergency Departments are overwhelmed, there’s a dire shortage of beds in wards and elective surgery has to be postponed time and time again.

Some of the blame can be placed on Covid-19 but the pandemic isn’t responsible for all the problems.

It’s the government that didn’t respond to the warning from the DHB’s.

It’s the government that wouldn’t loosen immigration settings to enable foreign health professionals here to gain residency and those overseas to come in.

It’s the government that’s wasted time, energy and millions of dollars on restructuring the system instead of addressing the problems facing services and the people who deliver them.

It’s the health workforce and people needing services who are paying a very high price for their inaction over the problems and distraction with restructuring.


No shades of grey

28/06/2022

Ooohh look over there.

That’s what Labour and others on the left are doing in trying to make Roe vs Wade an issue in New Zealand.

They’re worried about the polls and desperate for something they can use to attack National. Struggling to find traction on anything here they’re doing their best to use something that has no relevance in New Zealand.

In doing so they’ve been helped by the media who have, as they do too often, painted abortion as a black and white issue with no attempt to cover the many shades of grey.

Coverage of abortion is almost always divided into the two extremes, depicting it as  either a woman’s choice or anti-women.

Those extremes might reflect the views of some people.

Some  believe abortion is never, ever right.  Some believe it is never, ever wrong.

But in between are a range of views.

It is possible to believe that life begins at conception but that abortion is right in a case like this to save the mother when the baby can’t survive.

It is possible to believe that life begins at conception and accept that while abortion isn’t right for those who believe that, there are cases where it could be right for others.

It is possible to believe that life begins at conception and accept it as an option in some circumstances including when the pregnancy is the result of incest or rape; it is being carried by a child; carrying the baby endangers the life or health of the mother, be it mental or physical; or when the mother for myriad reasons couldn’t cope with a child.

It is possible to believe that life begins at conception and accept that the consequences of illegal abortions, when that’s all there are, require and legitimise safe and legal ones.

Then there’s the shades of grey on the other side.

It is possible to believe that abortion is a woman’s right and accept there’s intellectual inconsistency when what’s aborted is regarded as merely a bunch of cells but what’s lost in a miscarriage is a baby with all the grief that goes with such a loss.

It is possible to believe that abortion is a woman’s right in early pregnancy but not in later stages, especially once the baby could survive outside the womb.

It is possible to believe that abortion is a woman’s right but that the child, and the father have rights too.

These nuances are rarely, if ever, covered in media stories on the issue and I have seen none in the extensive coverage that’s come in the wake of the US court’s decision.

Instead a lot of the focus has been on National and attempts to make abortion an issue which might have a profound impact on support, or otherwise for the party, and on next year’s election even though the USA decision has no relevance here.

Belatedly some focus turned on Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta who tweeted a comment condemning the Roe vs Wade decision even though she voted against the 2020 legislation liberalising abortion law.

. . . Politicians in New Zealand were also quick to condemn the move including Nanaia Mahuta who called it “draconian”. 

“The US Supreme Courts overturning of Roe v. Wade Is draconian and does not support the right of women to choice. How can this happen? (sic)” Mahuta tweeted on Saturday. . . 

Mahuta voted in favour of the first abortion reform reading in 2019 but against the second and third. She also voted in favour of legislation to introduce safe zones for women accessing abortion facilities in 2022. 

A spokesperson for Mahuta said she was travelling and wouldn’t be able to answer why she voted against the second and third readings.  . . 

But regardless of which of our MPs voted which way, the USA legislation is an issue for that country and its people, not us and ours.

There might be a few single-issue voters who are agitated about abortion but when both major parties have said they have no intention of revisiting the legislation it won’t be of concern for most.

What will be top of mind, and are of far more imortance, are the issues from which Labour is trying to distract us – the cost of living, housing shortage, increase in crime, a health system in crisis . . .

There’s more than enough to foment domestic indignation without importing it over what’s happening in the USA. It will change nothing here no matter how hard some are trying to make it an issue for us and in doing so are painting it as black and white with no shades of grey.


Rural round-up

27/06/2022

Seed cleaning ingenuity earns global spotlight – Rebecca Ryan:

From a shed in Awamoko, Johnny Neill is getting global attention as he grows his mobile seed cleaning empire. He talks to Rebecca Ryan about how he got into the industry and started building world-leading mobile seed cleaning machines in rural North Otago.

When Johnny Neill was first approached to build a mobile seed cleaning machine, he had no idea what it was.

Fast forward 20 years, and the world is watching the Oamaru man making advances in mobile seed cleaning that no-one ever imagined were possible.

Mr Neill grew up on a dairy farm on the Taieri Plain and finished his secondary school years at Waitaki Boys’ High School. After a stint in dairy farming, he moving to the North Island, where he trained as an engineer and met his partner Kim Lyttle. . . 

Strategy will help farming face change – Annette Scott:

Te Puna Whakaaronui Thought Leaders group chair Lain Jager says New Zealand needs a strategy that will take the country forward as a nation.

He says there is a short window of opportunity to invest and make progress.

Strategies that are incomplete will not attract investment and if you can’t invest in them then you can’t move forward.

“Without clear strategy and capacity to implement change this country will go backwards,” Jager told the E Tipu Boma Agri Summit in Christchurch. . . 

Half year report is a mixed bag – Mel Croad:

At the halfway mark for the year, sheep and beef farmers are searching for some clarity in terms of what the rest of the season is going to look like. But after a roller coaster couple of years, there is no blueprint to follow. 

Breaking it down, market conditions are mixed at best.

For lamb, global markets appear more comfortable with dialling down pricing expectations. 

These lower asking prices and softer demand stretch across most key markets.  . .

Award respect rural health contribution – RIchard Davison:

A rural South Otago GP says his recent national award is recognition for the wider community.

Dr Branko Sijnja has been named recipient of the Peter Snow Memorial Award for 2022.

The New Zealand Rural General Practice Network gives the award each year to medical professionals making outstanding contributions to rural health.

Dr Sijnja (75) has been a GP in Balclutha since 1980, and retires from his role as Director of the Rural Medical Immersion Programme (RMIP) at Otago School of Medicine — his alma mater — next week . . .

Owners of unproductive land encouraged to grow black diamonds :

A Bay of Plenty truffle company is sharing the secrets of the industry in a bid to get landowners growing ‘black diamonds’ across the country.

Ohiwa Black Diamond Truffles is receiving more than $155,000 of Government funding over three years to share its knowledge with interested growers so New Zealand can grow enough truffles for a robust export industry. The business is also researching and developing new truffle products that incorporate the health benefits of truffles with traditional Māori rongoā (healing).

The business is run by Ohiwa-based couple Matui Hudson and Annette Munday. Since partnering with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) through the Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund last year, they have held three workshops on truffle growing, with more lined up over the coming weeks.

“We’ve already received orders for around 10,000 inoculated truffle seedlings from several hapū, and we’ve helped a Kawhia whānau set up their truffière,” says Ms Munday. . . 

Chatham Island Food Co wins the top gong at the Outstanding NZ Food Producer Awards :

Producers spanning the breadth of Aotearoa from the Chatham Islands to Akaroa and its length from Southland to Northland were among the Champions in this year’s Outstanding NZ Food Producer Awards, with Chatham Island Food Co named Supreme Champion 2022.

It’s the first time in the awards six-year history that seafood has taken out the top award.

Established by seventh-generation Chatham Islander, Delwyn Tuanui and his wife Gigi, Chatham Island Food Co has turned the Chatham Islands distance into a positive. It’s isolation – 800 kms east of the South Island – means a pristine environment which is reflected in the flavour and quality of its harvest. The business processes its marine harvest on the island, freezing in the flavour to share with seafood lovers across New Zealand.

Studying agriculture in Melbourne in the early 2000s was life-changing for Del. He met Gigi on his first day and came to appreciate the love for quality of seafood from the Chathams when cooking it for friends and later supplying it to top Sydney and Melbourne restaurants. In 2015 the pair purchased a rundown fish-processing plant on Wharekauri and Chatham Island Food Co began in earnest. Now they employ 25 staff and work with 30 fishing boats. . . 


Regrets, he’s got a few

27/06/2022

Former Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins has regrets:

. . . Asked if he had regrets, Hipkins said it is easy to look back with the knowledge we have now, but “you still have to make decisions based on the information that you had at the time.”

Hipkins told Q+A that some restrictions may have gone on too long.

“I think there were probably some areas where we could have moved more quickly to step down some restrictions,” he said.

“I think that lockdown in Auckland at the end of 2021 … I think nerves were pretty frayed by that and we should acknowledge that. Aucklanders paid a big price for our ongoing suppression of Delta while we got our vaccination rates up.” . . 

That begs the questions:

Does he also regret the slow vaccine rollout which is why vaccination rates weren’t nearly as high as they could, and ought to, have been when Delta got into the community?

Does he regret the mental, physical and financial toll the extended lockdown took?

Does he regret the lottery of misery that left people stranded without jobs and homes and kept so many people from coming home to be with seriously ill and dying family and friends, to attend funerals?

Does he regret the unfair and unkind exemption system that let hundreds of foreign DJs in but kept hundreds of pregnant New Zealand women out?

Does he regret the enormous economic and human cost of the extended lockdown and closed borders?

Does he regret the massive debts incurred by the Covid fund and the spending of a lot of it on initiatives that had nothing to do with Covid recovery?

Does he regret the slow approval and import of rapid antigen tests (RATs)?

Doe he regret the time and money his government has, and continues to waste, on restructuring the health system instead of strengthening it to cope with Covid-19 and the usual winter ills?

Does he regret not learning from repeated reports, and implementing the recommendations of them which would have reduced the impact of Delta and Omicron?

Having no playbook explains, and possibly excuses, early mistakes.

It neither explains nor excuses failing to learn from them and do much better, much sooner.


Nurses and midwives need fast track residency

23/06/2022

The government has the wrong priorities for immigration:

As New Zealand’s health system crumbles due to critical staffing shortages, National has launched a campaign to ensure that migrant nurses and midwives are offered a fast-tracked pathway to residency, National’s Immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford says.

“Labour has offered immediate residency to food technologists and ‘multimedia specialists’, yet not to these critical health workers.

Does the country have a dire need for food technologists and ‘mulitmedia specialists’ ?

It might, but the need for those people can’t be any higher than the need for nurses and midwives.

“Every day brings new headlines about our health system’s abysmal staffing shortcomings. Yet, the Government still hasn’t fixed its two-tiered immigration system that does nothing to attract nurses and midwives to New Zealand.

“Nurses and midwives are both on Australia’s priority skills list. If Australia offers the certainty of immediate residency, why would they choose New Zealand if they need to wait two years before they are even eligible to apply?

“We are short of around 4,000 nurses in this country. Continued unaddressed, we will surely hear worsening stories of 24-hour waits at Emergency Departments and patients even forgoing critically important treatment altogether.

“National has been calling on the Government to offer an immediate pathway to residency for nurses and midwives for months.

“However, the Immigration Minister can only provide an unfounded response that they shouldn’t be offered immediate residency because they might choose to leave their profession.

“That’s simply not good enough because we need these workers and the skills they would bring right now.

“National has launched a petition imploring the Government to immediately add nurses and midwives to the fast-track, start the fast-track process immediately and ensure the process of gaining residence is complete within three months of application.

“Until the Government takes action, it is Kiwis who will continue to pay the price.” 

The health system is sick and the prescription for treating it should have been given to frontline services and the people who provide them, not to restructuring the system.

Doctors and vets are on the green track for residency, as they should be, but so too should nurses and midwives. And the fast track should start immediately, not in September when the worst of winter illnesses will be over.

Hospitals are in crisis.

Staff are overworked, patients are facing long waits in emergency departments, surgery is being postponed, pregnant women are struggling to find a midwife, and resthomes have empty beds because they can’t find enough nurses :

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa (NZNO) says the Aged Care sector is in dire straits without mandated minimum safe staffing levels.

In 2020, between 200 and 300 Section 31 notices were submitted to the Ministry of Health notifying of the health and safety risks to patients caused by understaffing.

841 were submitted in 2021. Now 841 have been submitted between January and April of 2022 alone.

Chair of the NZNO College of Gerontology Natalie Seymour says the Aged Care sector is in crisis.

“Nurses are doing 12-16 hour shifts without a proper stand down period. I recently worked a 93 ½ hour week and this is getting more and more common.

“We have a huge shortfall of qualified registered and enrolled nurses, which is having a massively negative impact. I manage a facility with four nurses on the floor for 75 patients who require specialist care.

“The voluntary standards for our aged care facilities say each patient needs only need half an hour of one nurse’s care. But our ageing population are sicker, older, and more acute. The patients we have need much more care than half an hour a day.”

Ms Seymour says Aged Care facilities are responding to understaffing by refusing to fill beds.

“790 beds were closed this past year. When this happens it backs up hospitals, which are already over capacity, or leads to people being discharged when they shouldn’t be, burdening their whānau and communities.

“In order to make up the wages we have to increase room charges, and these are already $1500-2500 per week. We have people selling the family home to pay for care.”

Ms Seymour told the Health Select Committee this morning that a standardised acuity tool is needed that would help set staff/patient ratios that ensure clinically and culturally safe care for our patients.

“But we must also address the disparity between DHB and Aged Care worker pay, which can be up to $20,000, and this makes it incredibly difficult to recruit and retain staff.

“We do our best to pick up the pieces and support families through their grieving, to give them the care, support, and touch they deserve in their dying days. But the reality is no longer possible for our burned out Aged Care nurses and health workers.” 

Making employment in New Zealand for nurses and midwives by putting them on the fast-track, doing it immediately and ensuring their residency process is completed within three months would help to solve those problems.

You can sign the petition here.


Health system nightmare

22/06/2022

If Health Minister Andrew Little doesn’t think the health system is in crisis, ‘he’s dreaming‘:

The health minister is “dreaming” if he thinks the health system is not in crisis, his National Party counterpart Shane Reti says.

The minister, Andrew Little, says the government has done everything it can to support the health system, and rejects the accusation it failed to take earlier opportunities to bolster the nursing workforce.

Restructuring the health system is anything but supporting it. It would have been undermining it at the best of times, let alone in the middle of a pandemic when the need for hopsital care was higher and the borders were closed, restricting access to immigrant health professionals.

In Auckland, emergency departments are under massive strain, with Counties-Manukau DHB putting $350 per patient towards already stressed GPs to help ease pressure on Middlemore’s Emergency Department (ED).

Wellington and Hutt Valley DHBs have been forced to delay planned care for another four weeks, on top of a two-week deferment, because of unprecedented staff absences, high levels of vacancies, and high demand from winter illness.

Canterbury has also been under pressure. . . 

Every DHB is under pressure and many, perhaps most GPs are too.

National’s health spokesperson Shane Reti said it was a crisis – and Little was “dreaming” if he thought differently.

“He is dreaming. Show me one ED, show me one DHB that is not in crisis – one. Just choose one, any one, and convince us that the health system is coping. He is wrong.”

He said New Zealand was 3000 nurses short and missing nearly a quarter of the midwife workforce, and this was not the time to be reforming the health system.

“What we’re seeing is seeing the system slowly break, unfortunately, across all areas – across primary, now across secondary care – and we remain of the view that this is terrible timing to be reconstructing a health system.”

He said if reporting of ED wait times had not been shut down a year ago, maybe the problem would have been seen earlier.

“This is the chickens coming home to roost. We know the figures were looking bad a year ago, that’s not a reason to stop looking at them. It’s a good signal – ED wait times – as to how the whole system’s doing.”

“If you look at the last reported data, Hawke’s Bay and Palmerston North had worse ED waiting times than Middlemore. Are they going to get free weekend GP visits as well? I think it’s a reasonable question to ask.” . . 

Every day there’s stories showing just how sick the health system is with surgery delayed, staffing shortages and people left in EDs for want of a bed on a ward.

A shortage of sonographers in Oamaru has forced women to go out of town for scans.

There’s a four and a half year waiting list at one resthome and elderly people are either having to wait in hospital or be shipped out of town for resthome care.

New comers to the district can’t enroll with a GP and those of us registered with a practice have to wait a week or more for an appointment.

People who don’t get timely primary care are more likely to need secondary or tertiary services which adds to the pressure hospitals are facing..

Dr Reti is right. If the minister doesn’t think this is a crisis, he’s dreaming when the reality is a health system nightmare for the people working in it and those requiring its services.


Missed opportunity to learn

16/06/2022

Yet another damning report on the Covid response:

A backlog in Covid-19 PCR testing which led to the country’s systems falling over should have been predicted and prevented by health officials, an independent review has concluded.

Poor communication, data limitations and a failure to learn from international experiences instead led to complacency and meant the country’s laboratories buckled under the strain of requests.

In March, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield admitted the ministry had overestimated the number of Covid-19 PCR tests the country’s laboratories could process as the virus took off in the community.

The revelation came as Kiwis waited upwards of a week for test results and health experts warned of laboratories reaching a crisis point, while months earlier one of the Government’s own groups had raised red flags.

An independent review commissioned by the Ministry of Health and carried out by consultancy Allen and Clarke has now been released, laying bare the failures which led to the crash. . . 

With other countries having similarly faced difficulties with PCR testing in the face of Omicron, opportunities to learn from international experience were “substantial”.

“It is not apparent how these insights were incorporated into testing modelling, planning, or reporting.” . . 

The Ministry, and the Ministers, let us down again because the backlog was predictable:

A report out today shows the backlog of PCR testing was foreseeable and Ministers should take responsibility for a lack of action, National’s Covid-19 Spokesperson Chris Bishop says.

“In the first quarter of this year, 9000 PCR COVID tests were sent to Australia and 32,000 samples were nearly destroyed after laboratories in New Zealand were unable to cope with the demand.

“Today’s COVID-19 PCR Testing Backlog report, which has finally been released by the Government, says the backlog in PCR testing that emerged in February 2022 ‘should have been and was to some degree predictable.’

“The Ministry of Health has been found wanting at critical times during the pandemic.

“Last year, Sir Brian Roche’s Continuous Improvement Group made repeated recommendations to improve the functionality of the Ministry, while the Testing Technical Advisory Group also made a series of recommendations around testing capacity.

That report, and others, changed nothing, and there is little if any hope that the extensive and expensive restructuring of the health system would make it any better.

“In the first quarter of this year Omicron was already prevalent in other countries and as today’s report notes, ‘opportunities to learn from international experience were substantial, particularly in relation to the speed at which positivity rates increase and the impact on pooling’.

“But Ministers failed to act, instead relying on assurances from officials that New Zealand had enough testing capacity.

“A lack of testing capacity had real consequences. As the report notes, without an accurate forecast date when PCR testing capacity would be exceeded, there was no deadline for when the RAT roll-out was required. New Zealand was slow on the uptake of RATs because it was assumed PCR testing capacity would suffice. It didn’t.

“National spent most of the latter part of 2021 calling for a quick roll-out of rapid tests. It was obvious to many that once Omicron took hold in the community, PCR testing would struggle.

“Why weren’t Ministers listening to independent experts who were saying this publicly. How much better would things have been if National’s calls for rapid tests were listened to?

“National has also argued for over a year that saliva testing capacity can and should be used. Saliva testing was outside the scope of today’s report, which says it all.

“The Government has consistently and wilfully ignored the potential of saliva testing to test for COVID-19. It beggars belief that the Government excluded saliva testing from the scope of the report; presumably on the basis that the report would be even more critical than it already is. Instead of utilising saliva testing properly the Government rammed a law through Parliament giving itself the power to confiscate the assets of saliva testing companies like Rako Science.

“Two years into the pandemic, Ministers should stop blaming officials for basic errors and start taking responsibility. The buck stops with them.”

It is difficult to understand how the Ministry couldn’t accurately estimate laboratory capacity:

Those representing the country’s medical lab workforce say the Health Ministry’s estimates of lab capacity during the Omicron peak amounted to “misinformation”.  . . 

Lab scientists knew they’d be overwhelmed as Omicron took hold at the beginning of 2022. The president of the New Zealand Institute of Medical Laboratory Science, Terry Taylor, said the warning signs were well canvassed. 

“It was 100 percent predictable. We’d been warning since early January about our lab capacity and the figures that were being trumpeted around just simply were not there,” he said. 

Just like the PPE shortages, people on the frontline were saying there were problems but the Ministry, and the Ministers, were at best ignoring them, or worse still not believing them.

Those figures relate to January 25 this year, when Minister Ayesha Verrall announced we were “well prepared” for Omicron. 

Testing capacity had “increased to 58,000 tests a day”, and could surge to more than 77,000, she said.   

But official information obtained by Newshub showed no one in the Minister’s office checked the accuracy of the numbers. 

The figures were repeated over, and over. At a press conference on January 25, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also hailed New Zealand’s level of preparedness when it came to testing. 

“We can do 60,000 tests a day,” she said. 

The messaging infuriated the frontline and Taylor has a message for the politicians and their advisers.  

“Have a think about your frontline health professionals before you start making ridiculous assumptions of what their capability is,” Taylor said.

The secretary of Apex, the union that represents lab workers, Dr Deborah Powell, agrees. 

“The numbers that were being put out in public – it was misinformation and lab workers knew that. They were very upset.” . . 

This is another review that tells the same old under prepared story:

“Not so well prepared” has been a phrase that has accompanied the Government’s Covid response since it started.

That doesn’t mean totally unprepared, but several independent reviews have repeatedly described the response as reactive, not proactive.

So it was again on Tuesday with the release of an independent report into the 32,000 PCR samples that gathered dust for five days in February. This followed repeated Government claims that all was fine and there was plenty of PCR capacity to deal with demand as the Omicron wave started to build.

The report is embarrassing reading for the Health Ministry. . . 

Embarrassing for the Ministry, frustrating for the frontline workers and others whose warnings weren’t listened to, including those who had solutions:

Too little, too late.

That is what Sir Ian Taylor thinks about the Ministry of Health approving the Lucira Covid-19 test kit for use in New Zealand nearly two years after it was first approached about them.

On Wednesday, the ministry published a notice, signed by director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, in the New Zealand Gazette stating the tests, which return a result in 30 minutes with standard PCR accuracy, had been granted a full exemption for
use in New Zealand.

The kits consisted of a self-administered nasal swab that goes into a tube and is processed in a battery-powered testing device.

United States-based Lucira first approached the New Zealand Government about the tests in 2020, not long after the pandemic started.

Taylor, who had been urging the Government for months to approve them, said while it was great they had been approved, it had come far too late.

The tests could have been a “game-changer” earlier this year when the Omicron variant started to spread around the country which put “massive strain” on the testing laboratories. 

It could have also been used as a tool to wind down managed isolation and quarantine earlier than it was, Taylor said.

“While they have approved it, it’s like a lot of other things, they were late with the vaccinations, they were late with the rapid antigen tests [RATs], and they are late with this.” . . 

The Ministry, and Ministers, missed the opportunities to learn from overseas again.

S much of the Covid response wasn’t hard and early as the government kept telling us, but late and lax, again and again and again at an enormous human and financial cost.


Rural round-up

14/06/2022

“We should all be so proud” farmers reflect on year – Sally Rae:

Dynamic is a great word to describe New Zealand’s dairy farmers in 2022, South Island Dairy Event committee chairwoman Anna Wakelin says.

That was why it had been chosen as the theme for Side, the South Island’s largest dairy event which got under way in Oamaru yesterday.

“We are a dynamic industry and want the best for our animals, land and people,” Mrs Wakelin said.

She and her husband Tony farm in South Canterbury and she was proud to produce nourishing food for the world. . . 

Pupils making most of rural trades pathway – Kayla Hodge:

Waitaki Girls’ High School is giving pupils a pathway to the rural sector.

The Oamaru secondary school set up a trades academy last year, allowing pupils the opportunity to get hands-on experience working on various farms throughout the district.

Four pupils took part last year and seven have joined the initiative this year.

At present, the year 11 and 12 pupils mostly spend time on dairy farms, learning different skills from fencing and driving quad bikes and tractors, to spraying and milking. They are now getting ready to help farmers with calf rearing. . .

Why farmers are hard done by with HWEN :

A scheme proposed to be an alternative to putting agricultural biological emissions in to the ETS named He Waka Eke Noa (HWEN) has been presented to the Government. The scheme developed by some farming groups and a Māori organization is an attempt to head off the growing pressure for these biological emissions from livestock to be included in the ETS.

This pressure arises because farmers are constantly blamed for producing nearly half our carbon emissions, mainly from the methane ruminant livestock produce as a by product of the digestive process.

What Is not said about these emissions however is that the carbon emissions produced by livestock are very different to the carbon emissions produced by burning fossil fuel.

Carbon emissions from livestock do not cause the warming fossil sourced carbon emissions do. . .

Wool supplement helps heal wounds – Annette Scot:

Research by a United States plastic surgeon has given New Zealand’s coarse wool the opportunity to build more value for growers while helping heal wounds.

Wool sourced from sheep in NZ contains higher levels of a scleroprotein called keratin, a key structural material that protects epithelial cells from damage.

Kiri10 managing director Natalie Harrison says NZ keratin is used in dermatological treatments in dozens of countries around the world for the clinical management of wounds and severe burns, including those injured during the White Island eruption.

But the concept of consuming wool to provide a health benefit for humans is still in its infancy but is showing significant promise. . .

It’s crunch time in Kiwi-grown peanut trial :

Local peanut butter maker Pic Picot is hopeful that outcomes of the Kiwi peanut crop will bring him one step closer to a 100 per cent New Zealand-made nutty spread.

The harvest of field trial peanut crops in Northland is nearing completion this week as part of a project looking into the feasibility of commercially growing the nuts in New Zealand.

It’s the first year of a $1 million project funded by Picot Productions (makers of Pic’s Peanut Butter), Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund and Northland Inc, following a successful one-year feasibility study in 2021.

If the trial proves successful it would have significant positive impacts for the region – generating jobs both on- and off-farm, pumping funds into the local economy and supporting investment opportunities. . .

 

Jacob Coombridge wins the 2022 Central Otago Young Grower competition :

Jacob Coombridge, a 22-year-old Orchard Supervisor at Webb’s Fruit, has won the 2022 Central Otago Young Grower competition.

The competition tested the eight contestant’s fruit and vegetable growing knowledge as well as the skills needed to be a successful grower. Contestants completed modules in irrigation, pests and disease identification, safe tractor operating, first aid, soil and fertilisers and risk management.

“It’s so awesome to have so many people from the industry along to support us,” says Jacob.

“Like all farming, working on an orchard can be isolating at times, but it’s awesome that competitions like this are able to bring everyone together. We’ve got a great grower community, and everyone has been really supportive of all of us as contestants. . .

 


Three Waters’ solution’s simple – Jim Hopkins

13/06/2022

Waitaki District Councillor Jim Hopkins has a simple solution for water woes:

It is an honour to be a councillor, and a privilege.

But that privilege brings responsibilities with it. Like promoting your community and preserving your reputation — something that has been too often forgotten lately.

I hate hearing radio hosts bagging local government. Or talkback callers blithely labelling every council in the country a bunch of self-serving, petty, extravagant incompetents who’ve proved beyond doubt why nobody bothers to vote for them.

But I hate even more hearing about a council that’s done exactly the kind of daft thing, like pushing a vanity project or grandstanding on a political issue, that gives the critics another reason to put the boot in. The same goes for councillors whose internal conflicts or dotty comments have either cost a fortune or made the rest of us look like a bunch of gormless prats.

Worse still, it’s not just individual councillors or councils — most of whom are dominated, like Parliament, by political parties — that are shooting us in the foot. Even Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) — the body supposed to speak for us — has got in the act, in my opinion.

When the Government recently announced it was ignoring public opinion and pressing ahead with its four company, 3 Waters reforms — which will inevitably see water meters in every home in the country — the president of LGNZ, Stuart Crosby, meekly said change had to happen because we all know the system is broken.

Well, you may think that, Stuart, I don’t.

The system’s not broken.

It may not be perfect in some areas, but in most places, on most days, most people wake up and drink safe water, enjoy good showers, flush efficient toilets and have drains that cope with bad weather.

For me, the problem’s one of size; the size of smaller towns and the size of the bill they have to pay to improve standards.

And the solution’s simple.

The Government that’s setting the standards should share some of its funds. We don’t need four companies, we need more cash. Cash to help smaller towns, cash to give local people real control over their local assets. . . 

This would be a far less expensive and for more efficient solution than the costly and inefficient four layers of bureaucracy that the government’s Three Waters plan would result in.

The government is imposing higher standards for drinking, storm and waste water.

Their plan to ensure the standards are met is overly bureaucratic and will in time, if not at once, be overly expensive.

If the government goes ahead with its plan to take the water assets from councils, there might be a reduction in rates to reflect the reduction in costs to councils now face for looking after them. But any savings in rates will be more than offset by the increased costs of maintaining the new four levels of bureaucracy on top of the costs associated with meeting the new standards for delivering clean, and dealing with dirty, water.

It would cost less and be more effective to ditch the plan for four new layers of bureaucracy and give the money saved directly to councils, most of which provide pipes, pumps and treatment ponds that enable more of us to, as Jim says, drink safe water, enjoy good showers, flush efficient toilets and have drains that cope with bad weather.


Who will it help?

09/06/2022

The Act creating a new health system has passed its third reading.

It begs the question, how will it help the frontline?

. . .National’s Dr Shane Reti said the reform would not do anything for the 36,000 people waiting four months to see a specialist.

“They only see an ideological health reform in the middle of a pandemic, and at a time when New Zealanders are still dying from Covid every single day. The timing is terrible,” he said.

Despite the third reading being essentially the big rubber stamp that didn’t stop the opposition putting the boot in.

National’s mental health spokesman Matt Doocey called it a “vanity project,” while its rural communities spokesperson Nicola Grigg said: “It’s finishing up as nothing but the shifting of the deck chairs on the Titanic.” . . 

The health system is sick and this extensive and expensive reorganisation is not the right prescription to cure it.

It won’t solve the critical shortage of medical, nursing and other staff.

It won’t improve their working conditions and pay.

It won’t help the waiting times at emergency departments.

It won’t make it any easier, or faster, for people to get diagnosed and treated.

It won’t help people access treatments available overseas but not here.

So who will it help?

No-one but the people who will get new jobs in the new centralised bureaucracy and given the challenges they’ll face, it probably won’t help them either.

 


Extended orange for Covid or ‘flu?

25/05/2022

Fear of a second wave of Covid is why the government says it’s keeping the country at the Covid orange setting until the end of June:

. . . Hipkins said the orange setting remained appropriate for managing the Covid outbreak.

The arrival of new strains of cold and flu was another reason to remain cautious. . . 

This begs the question: is the extension of the orange setting for Covid or the ‘flu?

The ‘flu usually kills about 500 people a year. That’s more than have died of, as distinct from with, Covid in the last two years but is ‘flu as infectious and isn’t the vaccine reasonably effective?

Whatever the answers to those questions, is the extension because Covid and the ‘flu could put too much pressure on the health system?

If that’s the case, why aren’t ‘flu vaccines free for more people and why hasn’t increasing capacity in the health system been a far higher priority?

Focusing on the front line, including allowing migrant health professionals who are here to fast track residency, allowing more in from overseas and improving pay and conditions to make working here more competitive with Australia would have helped.

It would certainly do a lot more for better health outcomes than the extensive and expensive restructuring of the whole system.


Less for more

16/05/2022

Getting less while spending more money is a disturbing feature of the government and its agencies:

There’s the eye-watering $1.9 billion for mental health:

National’s Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Spokesperson Matt Doocey has written to the Auditor-General to request an investigation into why the $1.9 billion the Government allocated to mental health has not resulted in any material improvements in mental health outcomes.

“The Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission’s damning report released last month found that improvements in mental health have not materialised under Labour despite the $1.9 billion of extra funding, with little change in access and wait times for mental health and addiction services. . . 

Then there’s Waka Kotahi:

The Government has been on a spin doctor hiring spree, with the number of communications staff at NZTA more than doubling in four years, National’s Transport spokesperson Simeon Brown says.

“Labour is all spin and no delivery. They can’t get things done so they rely on spin doctors to try to cover up their failures in transport, wasting taxpayer money on doubling NZTA’s comms team rather than upgrading roads.

“The number of comms staff at NZTA has ballooned to the equivalent of 88 full-time staff in 2020/21, up from just over 32 full-time staff in 2016/17.

“The amount of money being spent on these spin doctors is eye-watering. Comms staff earning over $100,000 a year has increased almost 10-fold under Labour, from the equivalent of 6.6 full-time staff to almost 65.

“It doesn’t end there. Despite more than doubling the number of full-time comms staff, the Government is billing taxpayers over $75 million a year for consultants. That’s up from $31 million in 2016/17.

“In fact, NZTA spent almost as much on consultants as on construction for the NZ Upgrade Programme between 2019 and March 2022. During that time, $145 million was spent on consultants compared to $202 million on construction.  

“Labour has created a culture that is tolerant of wasteful spending. This is taxpayer money that would be better spent on building better roads and upgrading our transport infrastructure. . . 

All those consultants and extra staff and all the extra money they cost, yet the agency still produces an advertisement that shows a driver swerving to avoid a possum, contrary to the safety advice that drivers shouldn’t try to avoid a small animal.

All those consultants and extra staff and all extra the money they cost and the agency is substituting lower speed limits instead of the work needed to make roads safer.

All those consultants and extra staff, costing more and delivering less.

Immigration NZ is also guilty of  doing less with more money:

The Government has hired over 500 more staff at Immigration New Zealand since 2017 yet visa processing times have exploded, National’s Immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford says.

“Labour has been on a bureaucrat hiring spree since they came into Government, but still can’t deliver better outcomes for New Zealand.

“The number of office staff at Immigration New Zealand has gone from 1357 in 2017 to 1879 in March 2022 and the Minister has increased spending by $150 million.

“Yet there were 100 fewer staffers employed to process visa applications in that time, and the processing time for a visitor visa application has blown out from 21 days in 2017 to five months in 2022.

“So the Government has delivered more bureaucrats to Immigration New Zealand and wasted more taxpayer money, for worse outcomes.

“Labour simply cannot get things done. It’s not enough to just make the announcement, spray the cash, hire more public servants and walk away.

“With the border set to reopen in just over eight weeks, more visa applications will come flooding in to add to the major backlog we already have.

“They’ve made their big announcement about opening the border, but exactly how they’re going to process visas and get people into the country, which we desperately need, remains to be seen.” 

This waste would be bad at the best of times, it’s even worse when inflation is raging.

A good government would be aiming to get more for less, instead ours is accomplishing less and spending more.


Rural round-up

12/05/2022

Rural health refused priority – Peter Burke:

“Completely and utterly outrageous.”

That’s how NZ Rural General Practice Network chair Dr Fiona Bolden describes the Government’s outright rejection of calls to make ‘rural’ a priority in the new Pae Ora Health Futures (POHF) Bill now before Parliament.

The bill is the first major reform of the health service in more than 20 years and paves the way for a completely new structure that is supposed to deliver better health outcomes for NZ. But according to Bolden, who works as a rural GP, it won’t do this for the nearly 750,000 people who live in rural NZ.

The genesis of the changes come from a review of the health service by Heather Simpson. In her review, according to Bolden, rural was seen as a priority and was mentioned some 80 times in Simpson’s report. . . 

Is it time to reconsider the rules on GMOs? – Emile Donovan:

The Productivity Commission says New Zealand needs to take another look at its regulations on genetically modified organisms – or we could risk missing out on important innovations that improve our lives and the environment

Is it time for New Zealand to reconsider its strict regulations on genetically modified organisms (GMOs)? 

In a report released in April, the Productivity Commission called for a renewed conversation, saying technology has outpaced the regulatory environment. 

While many still hold serious reservations about genetic modification, the ability to ‘gene edit – altering the genes of an organism which has been sequenced, rather than introducing foreign genes into it – has led to remarkable developments around the world.  . . 

Still some sticking points with new winter grazing rules – Sudesh Kissun:

Farmers still have some concerns around the revised grazing regulations released last month.

Restrictions on planting winter forage crops on slopes over 10 degrees and regulation wordings around ‘critical source areas’ exempted from cultivating or grazing cows are being contested by farmers.

Federated Farmers Southland vice president Bernadette Hunt says farmers welcome some parts of the revised regulations – like the removal of specific requirements around pugging depths.

Another amendment requiring grazed annual forage crop paddocks to be re-sown as soon as conditions allow, instead of by a set date, has also been accepted. . . 

Lamb exports outpace averages – Annette Scott:

Despite supply chain challenges and processing delays lamb export prices have soared to an unseasonal all-time high.

Continuing the run of record high monthly lamb average export values (AEV) since August last year, AEV reached $13.49 a kilogram for March. 

This is the highest ever recorded.

Both chilled and frozen AEV reached NZ$20.67/kg and $12.52/ kg, respectively.  . . 

Seven-fold increase in DOC land destroyed by fires concerning :

The area of Department of Conservation (DOC) land burned in unwanted fires is rising rapidly yet the agency is doing just the bare minimum to protect land and has taken no accountability, National’s Fire and Emergency Spokesperson Todd Muller says.

“Fire and Emergency New Zealand has responded to at least 109 fires on DOC land since the 2019/20 fire season destroying more than 13,600 hectares of Public Conservation lands over the past three years. To-date, that’s a seven-fold increase on the 2,003 hectares destroyed by wildfires for three years period before 2019/20.

“Cracks in the management of unwanted fires on DOC land started to show when regulatory control over Public Conservation Lands was transferred from DOC to FENZ in 2017.

“Since then DOC has essentially taken a hands-off approach to fire management on its land. DOC has reduced its funding from a ten-year average annual spend of $10.4 million before 2017/18 to a current annual average of $3.6 million for the past three years. . . 

Potential closure to sporting dynasty little golf club’s remarkable plight – Logan Savory:

Six years ago the 100-year-old Nightcaps Golf Club was facing the likely prospect of closure. Fast-forward to 2022 and the club is now home to one of Southland’s more remarkable sporting dynasties. Logan Savory reports.

In early 2016 the few remaining members at the Nightcaps Golf Club found themselves pondering the future.

The club had just seven playing members and discussions had started around leasing the golf course land out for farming use.

The likely closure of the Nightcaps Golf Club, established in 1922, fast become a reality six years ago. . . 

 


BEAT

08/05/2022

In this video Sasha Terfous, Poet Laureate for Wexford Town shares a powerful message to help raise awareness of World Ovarian Cancer Day on May 8th 2022.

The theme of ‘BEAT’ is an acronym for the symptoms of Ovarian Cancer:

Bloating that is persistent and doesn’t come and go Eating less and feeling full more quickly

Abdominal and pelvic pain you feel most days

Toilet changes in urination or bowel habits

 

You can learn more about ovarian cancer, including other symptoms, at Cure Our Ovarian Cancer.

#NoWomanLeftBehind #WOCD2022 #WorldOvarianCancerDay


World Ovarian Cancer Day

08/05/2022

Today is World Ovarian Cancer Day.

Established in 2013 by a group of leaders from ovarian cancer advocacy organizations around the world, May 8 – World Ovarian Cancer Day, is the one day of the year we globally raise our voices in solidarity in the fight against ovarian cancer.

While the World Ovarian Cancer Coalition works on many fronts, World Ovarian Cancer Day is our flagship awareness-raising initiative, and is the key date in our calendar. Supported by close to 200 organizations from around the world, our social media reach grows exponentially every year, with 2021 directly reaching over eighteen million up from three million the previous year – a growth of nearly 500%. Our partner organizations, as small as kitchen table-based patient advocacy groups in rural communities, to national healthcare associations based in major metropolitan areas, all come together as one to raise awareness about the disease – and in 2021 their extended reach of the Day was over 100 million. 

The disease is the deadliest of the five gynaecological cancers and kills a New Zealand woman every 48 hours – that’s about 180 women a year which is more than die on the roads.

It’s been that way for decades.

Breast and prostate cancer used to take a similar toll but increased awareness and research has improved diagnosis, treatments and survival rates for them.

That’s not an argument for less funding for those cancers, it’s a plea to give similar funding to the prevention, treatment and research of ovarian cancer.

In March last year a petition was presented to parliament seeking funds for ovarian cancer cancer awareness and research.

More than a year later, all the work increasing awareness, advocating for women with the disease and funding research is done by volunteers through charities like Cure Our Ovarian Cancer.

That’s why women like the ones interviewed have to speak up:

Ovarian cancer is the least survivable cancer for women in New Zealand and yet one of the most underfunded. For over a year advocates have been fighting for more funding, research, and better access to diagnosis, but to no avail.

Now, an Official Information Act request has revealed just why it’s so hard for some young women to get a diagnosis, with some DHBs refusing to refer them for an ultrasound.

Jane Ludemann, founder of Cure Our Ovarian Cancer, reached out to all DHBs to see their referral procedures but only heard back from 13 of them.

Out of the 13, only seven DHBs would accept a referral for someone younger than 45 with a normal CA-125 blood test and one month of symptoms.

“There are two ways of screening for ovarian cancer, one is a blood test called CA-125, that’s a tumour marker that’s specific to ovarian cancer. We know that in early stages of ovarian cancer the CA-125 can be completely normal so you have a screening test that doesn’t perform that well and that’s the concern,” obstetrician Dr Michelle Wise said.

Hence the better option is an ultrasound. It’s still not 100% accurate but can offer more information.

The Hawke’s Bay and Northland DHBs said they wouldn’t accept the referral for an ultrasound for those under 45 with a normal blood test result even if the symptoms lasted three months and were worsening.

Mid Central DHB indicated they would accept the referral, but women have to wait up to five months for an appointment.

“That’s setting women up to fail because you’re not going to catch those ovarian cancers early if you’re making people wait so long to tick the boxes, and it’s not a medical rationale for that referral criteria – it’s a resourcing issue,” Ludemann said.

She started advocating for ovarian cancer when she got diagnosed at 32. It took her two years of multiple GP visits, specialist appointments and misdiagnoses for the doctors to finally tell her she has between five and 15 years of life left to live.

“I’ve made it five years and I’m lucky because about two-thirds of the women that were diagnosed when I was aren’t here anymore,” she said.

Of the women with ovarian cancer in New Zealand, one in eight are diagnosed before the age of 45 and, because of a lack of funding and research, it’s unclear what treatment options are the best and whether or not they’ll even work. . . 

It shouldn’t be this way. Because it is, women have to be their own best advocates:

A young mother whose life has been turned on its head by ovarian cancer is imploring wāhine to listen to their bodies and advocate for themselves if something isn’t right.

In October, Miracle Marsh, then 27, started experiencing fatigue, loss of appetite, a change in bowel habits, frequent urge to urinate, and pain in her abdomen and back. Her stomach swelled so much she looked hapū (pregnant).

As a busy mum of two boys, aged six and 10, working in aviation in a ground handling operations role, the Whakatane woman put many of her symptoms down to life’s stresses. But it turned out to be stage 1C3 mucinous ovarian carcinoma.

Marsh is telling her story for World Ovarian Cancer Day, which this year coincides with Mother’s Day, as part of a campaign to encourage awareness of ovarian cancer in younger women.

While typically thought of as a disease in older wāhine, ovarian cancer can also affect those under 45 – and this group is more likely to experience delays in diagnosis. . . 

Marsh had to push for a lot through her cancer journey: “It has been really hard.”

She now shares her story across social media to encourage self-advocacy and awareness of ovarian cancer, its symptoms and risks and lack of wider screening.

“It is so important for wāhine to listen to their bodies and come forward. I hope my voice will change that.”

Marsh said women especially tend to care for others before themselves, but she wanted to encourage other wāhine to make themselves and their health a priority: “There should be no guilt in that.”

Although ovarian cancer symptoms are vague, “we all know when something is off,” she said, and she also wanted men and young girls to know the signs. . . 

Too often women with ovarian cancer symptoms are told it’s all in their heads:

Kelly Gilmore was about to be sent home from the emergency department with laxatives and diet advice when a doctor overheard her crying on the phone and agreed to do a scan.

“The screen immediately lit up with a mass the size of a growing baby. I burst into tears, of joy, that there was something there and I wasn’t crazy,” Gilmore, now 40, said.

The Tauranga mum-of-two had ovarian cancer.

Yet in the two years prior, Gilmore – who works as an accountant – had visited two medical centres several times complaining of pain in her abdomen and saying she was gaining weight despite exercising more and eating less.

“I looked like I was nine months pregnant,” she told the Herald.

Each visit she said she was told there was nothing wrong with her and that she was just overweight and needed to change her diet and live a healthier lifestyle.

“My tummy just kept getting bigger and bigger. I requested a scan only to be told I wasn’t eligible,” she said.

After Gilmore kept insisting something was wrong, she said, a nurse practitioner started to explore her mental health. She had a history of depression and anxiety and the nurse thought she could have possible personality disorder, medical records seen by the Herald show.

Gilmore doesn’t blame the nurse practitioner, saying she didn’t meet the criteria for a referral to see a specialist and the nurse was just doing her best to explore other possibilities. But it did make her feel crazy.

“It’s really frustrating not being believed,” she told the Herald.

“I started to think maybe it was in my head and it was just a cyst and would disappear.”

However, when New Zealand was entering its first nationwide Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020, Gilmore turned up at Tauranga Hospital’s emergency department in severe pain.

“It was getting to the point where the pain was becoming really bad and I couldn’t eat no matter what position I was in,” she said.

She said she was refused a scan and was about to be sent home with laxatives and more diet advice when she was overheard crying to her then-husband on the phone.

The doctor changed her mind at the last minute and they performed an ultrasound, Gilmore said.

She had a three-litre tumour growing in and around her organs. . . 

A week after that, during alert level 3, she received a phone call from a doctor who told her she had ovarian cancer.

“It was really hard to hear,” Gilmore said. . . 

You can learn more about ovarian cancer, its symptoms, treatments, support groups and also fund life saving research at Cure Our Ovarian Cancer.

The charity has bill boards in Times Square, New York, Piccadilly Circus today and throughout New Zealand for a week.

Cure Our Ovarian Cancer has generously been donated billboards across New Zealand. We encourage you to go, check them out – take a photo – and tag Cure Our Ovarian Cancer NZ on social media (@ovariancancernz – instagram and Facebook & @cure_ovarian_ca Twitter).

The billboard locations are listed at the link above.

This year’s billboards are all about the excuses our ovarian cancer community told themselves before they were diagnosed – and a reminder that sometimes what seems not that serious – could be very serious – and it’s better to be safe than sorry and let your doctor know. You can find more information about ovarian cancer symptoms here. . . .

Join me in raising awareness so we can make #OvarianCancer a global priority. If nothing is done right now, over 4 million women will die from this disease by 2040. The time to act is now, so we can reach our goal of #NoWomanLeftBehind #WOCD2022 #WorldOvarianCancerDay


Late and lax again

03/05/2022

The government is crowing about a trial of what could be a welcome addition to  the Covid-testing tool box.

New, more accurate Covid tests which return results in 30 minutes will be trialled at Auckland Airport.

Lamp (loop-mediated isothermal amplification) tests can be self-administered like a RAT (rapid antigen test), but are much more accurate.

They will be trialled at the airport, initially limited to 30 Air NZ staff, and could eventually be used in hospitals, aged care and other sectors, Associate Minister for Covid-19 Response Dr Ayesha Verrall said this morning.

“The Lucira test is shown in clinical trials to be … close to the accuracy of PCR tests, but also the convenience of being a test you can purchase and then take with you to wherever you need it,” she said at a press conference at Auckland Airport. . . 

The Lucira devices had not yet been licensed in New Zealand for broader use. But if the trial proved successful, they could one day be used by travellers.

“Potentially you could carry this test in your suitcase and … then you would know coming back into New Zealand you had the test you need,” Verrall said. 

“You wouldn’t need to run around a foreign city trying to find where you could buy a PCR test. It would be cheaper, and the airline would potentially be able to see the online verification of your test, and know your result was negative.” . . 

Faster, more accurate and able to be carried with you is good, but Sir Ian Taylor writes in a Linked in Post that Lucira could have been here much, much sooner:

OMG!!! LUCIRA. The DPMC has really gone for broke with the PR spin on the Lucira trial – if there is anyone from the media out there who would like another take on this then I am happy to chat. I’d normally write an opinion piece but right now I am focused on my day job and the staggering array of opportunities that have arisen from one, 3 day trip to the US and the NAB show in Vegas.

You won’t need to be stuck behind the DPMC’s on going strategy that make it almost impossible to get the emails you need to show that nothing they are spinning right now bears any resemblance to the truth. I have the email that was sent to the MOH in July 2020 inviting them to be one of 5 countries to be part of the trial that would reduce PCR testing from 4-5 days ( at that time) to 30 minutes. I also have their dismissive – “thanks but no thanks” reply. Happy to share.

Then there are the emails shared with Grant Robertson and Ayesha Verrall back in December of last year with information on Lucira and introducing them to the team at Lucira Health that I had been working with (with no help from the govt) to organise 20,000 doses to be sent immediately to New Zealand for a trial that could have been conducted by Terry Taylor (President of NZIMLS) in less than a week. This shipment was supported by the confidential results of intensive trials conducted by Lucira clients like Canada, Israel, and Qatar. We could have had this trial done and dusted by mid-January – if everyone in the govt hadn’t gone on the PM’s famous “well-earned break!! Then there was the interesting meeting called to discuss the plan to use Lucira – and other kiwi tech – to get kiwis home that I had prepared with the “Cross Sector Border Group” where I was told that only the govt and Air New Zealand were authorised to speak about Lucira in the future ( I introduced Greg Foran to Lucira as well) and I was asked to stop writing those “bad faith articles” about the govt.

While they have dilly dallied – we got 2,000 of the Lucira tests to Tonga at no cost and organised 65 million Orient Gene RATs to be delivered here at a time when the govt was so far behind the 8 ball they were requisitioning ours. . . .

Who do you believe – the government’s PR machine on the businessman who gets things done?

Contrary to the lines it repeats, the government’s response to Covid-19 wasn’t hard and early at the start, it certainly wasn’t hard and early with the vaccination rollout and now it’s been shown to be late and lax again with a trial of Lucira.


FluTracking

30/04/2022

FluTracking is an online surveillance system used to track the spread of influenza.

Participation is voluntary, you’ll find out how to join at the link above.

You’ll get an email each week with a link to questions. It takes about 30 seconds to answer them.

The main aims of it are to develop a system that can provide:

  1. Community level influenza-like illness surveillance
  2. Consistent surveillance of influenza activity across all jurisdictions and over time; and
  3. Year-to-year comparison of the timing, attack rates, and seriousness of influenza in the community.


Rural round-up

28/04/2022

Rural focus missed in health reform – Neal Wallace:

Rural communities should be a priority health focus alongside women, Māori, Pacific and people with disabilities in the Government’s health reforms, according to a NZ Rural General Practice Network (NZRGPN) submission.

The NZRGPN says the proposed legislation ignores the needs of 740,000 rural people and will mean the continuation of poorer health outcomes for those living in rural communities.

The Pae Ora (Healthy Futures) Bill, which amalgamates the country’s District Health Boards into a centralised body, will be reported back to Parliament later this month.

Despite the economic importance of rural-based industries, the network claims that unless “rural people” is added to the Bill as an identified priority population, then health inequities and the rural health staffing crisis will continue. . . 

Government regs take their toll on hort growers – Peter Burke:

Horticulture NZ’s chair is genuinely concerned about the wellbeing of growers with confidence at rock bottom.

Barry O’Neil told Rural News the pressure that growers are facing is on many fronts, including a plethora of new government regulations. He says 2022 will be the hardest year the sector has experienced for many and the heat is on growers because of this.

“It’s not just Covid, it’s all the other issues that are building in respect to the environmental settings the Government wants to achieve,” O’Neil explains. “There are shipping disruptions, labour shortages and rising costs on orchard as well.

“It’s not just about change – this is about the amount of change and the speed at which this happening.”  . . .

Planting trees ‘binds our community’ – Sally Rae:

“We are all in this together.”

As Emeritus Professor Henrik Moller points out, although 90% of voters live in urban centres, New Zealand’s biological industries — particularly farming and forestry — earn about 60% of the country’s national income.

Urban dwellers often went “hunting and gathering in supermarkets” and there was increasingly less understanding of the struggles their rural counterparts had.

“The more we understand, meet and support each other, the safer our country will be. Our future depends on it,” he said. . . 

‘Right tree, right place’ plan proffered

Environment Southland has proposed a “right tree, right place” policy in response to concerns about forestry taking over pastoral land as climate change bites.

In an extraordinary meeting of the council earlier this month, Environment Southland discussed its response to a document released by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) which proposes changes to forestry settings in the New Zealand emissions trading scheme (ETS).

The MPI is considering changes to the ETS, including a blanket ban on exotic forestry receiving carbon credits or a ban on nominated exceptions. Keeping the status quo is also being considered.

There is a concern good pastoral land is being eaten up by forestry being planted to earn carbon credits, which have more than doubled in price since June 2020. . . 

New research shows opportunity for NZ wool in US :

New research has found that Americans have different ideas about wool compared to New Zealanders – one that offers growers a huge opportunity.

The research commissioned by the Campaign for Wool NZ (CFWNZ) found a large education gap in how US consumers think about wool, CFWNZ chairman Tom O’Sullivan said.

“For example, 53% think of cashmere when they hear the word wool. Although they are aware of wool, it sits quite a bit lower down in their consciousness when compared to New Zealand consumers.”

The research by Fresh Perspective Insight canvassed 3000 consumers across three markets – New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States in November last year. . . 

JB Fairfax Award to Kate Newsome – Andrew Norris :

A budding journalist from Glen Innes with a passion to provide a voice for people in rural areas has been awarded the 14th JB Fairfax Award for Rural and Regional Journalism and Communications.

Kate Newsome has been undertaking a bachelor of arts and bachelor of advanced studies in media and communications at the University of Sydney, said the award’s benefactor, John Fairfax, during his presentation to Kate at Sydney Royal Show.

“… we need talented and well-trained journalists, individuals who can bring to all of us … balance and factual accounts of the many things that affect our lives,” he said.

“Kate is a great girl and she hopes to use a career in the media to bring greater attention to many of these issues.” . . 

 


Grounded Kiwis win

28/04/2022

The High Court has ruled in favour of Grounded Kiwis’ case against the MIQueue lottery of misery.

. . .Justice Jillian Mallon released her decision this afternoon and found that although MIQ was a critical component of the Government’s elimination strategy, the combination of the virtual lobby and narrow emergency criteria meant New Zealanders’ rights to enter their country was infringed. 

“In some instances in a manner that was not demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society,” Justice Mallon said. 

The decision, which spanned hundreds of pages, outlined Justice Mallon’s decision. 

She found that the MIQ system didn’t allow for individual circumstances to be considered and prioritised, and examples of extreme delays were not prioritised. 

The MIQ booking system did not allow for individuals, and the prioritisation of returning citizens, due to the “virtual lobby” that operated as a lottery and the criteria for emergency allocation was narrow and too tightly set. . . .

Anyone using both head and heart would agree that a system which allowed multiple foreign DJs to cross the border more than once, and stopped citizens with pressing needs to return was unfair.

During the judicial review, lead defence lawyer Paul Radich QC spoke about the real impact the MIQ system had on New Zealanders and read aloud statements that detailed the anguish and distress many felt through the process. 

One woman was left stranded overseas, unable to return home to bury her only son when he died from a medical event. Another was unable to be there while her son underwent cancer treatment. 

Multiple families had been separated for months if not years and some suffered emotional distress so extensive from their attempts to return home that ongoing psychiatric support is needed. 

One man spent 10 hours a day refreshing the website to try and secure his spot in MIQ, sleeping with headphones just so he would know when to jump online. For this, he suffered serious sleep deprivation. 

Some had to give up altogether because of the negative toll the system was having on their mental health and wellbeing.  . . 

The Grounded Kiwis court ruling is a victory for the many Kiwis who wanted to come home and couldn’t because of the lottery of human misery that was the MIQ system, National Party Covid-19 Response spokesman Chris Bishop said. 

“Justice Mallon has found that the MIQ system did not sufficiently allow individual circumstances to be considered and prioritised where necessary and it operated as an unjustified limit on the right of New Zealand citizens to enter their country,” he said. 

“The judge has said there were other ways the MIQ system could have worked, such as a points system, as recommended by the National Party.  . . 

“We now have judicial confirmation of state-sponsored cruelty that was the MIQ lottery.” 

MIQ helped to keep Covid-19 out of the country but the system for allocating spaces, particularly for people with urgent needs to return home, was not fit for purpose.

Courts have now found that the lockdown was, at first, illegal; that vaccine mandates for the defense force and police were illegal and now has found that some aspects of MIQ were unjustified.

With an apology to Lady Bracknell, if losing one case was a misfortune, losing two begins to look like carelessness and to lose three looks like incompetence.

Apropos of incompetence, why has it taken until now to get face mask exemption cards with legal backing?


Rural round-up

27/04/2022

The loneliness of the long distance rural midwife – Vanessa Bellew:

Pregnant women in one town in Southland have lost the last remaining midwife and are now served by maternity care based 100km-160km away

Te Anau’s only midwife is the latest casualty of the beleaguered maternity system in the South and now it appears the town’s maternal and child hub is being downgraded before it is even fully up and running.

The Southern District Health Board told Newsroom the town and nearby area did “not have sufficient” pregnant women or baby numbers to sustain a maternal and child hub and a full-time midwife in the town.

Health professionals Newsroom spoke to were concerned that the health board was using inaccurate and outdated statistics to justify reducing maternity services further and for not funding a locum midwife. . . 

Christopher Luxon on IPCC climate change report NZ’s dairy herd – The Country:

National Party leader Christopher Luxon is not a fan of culling New Zealand’s dairy herd.

“I’ve got no time for that whatsoever,” he told The Country’s Jamie Mackay.

Recently, Greenpeace called for the Government to “halve the herd”, following the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

Luxon said there was no need for this, as Kiwi farmers were already “the most carbon-efficient in the world”. . . 

Solar powered smart cow collars come to Taranaki farms – Elijah Hill:

The best dressed Taranaki dairy cows this year may just be the ones wearing solar-powered, time-saving, smart collars.

New Zealand tech company Halter, which fits solar-powered, GPS-enabled smart collars to cows, is expanding to the region as well as Central Plateau, Otago and Southland.

Cows are trained to respond to sound and vibrations from the collars which allow farmers to ‘steer’ the cows around the farm.

This allows farmers to call cows to the milking shed using their phone, or set ‘virtual fences’ and break feed while having a cup of tea at home. . . 

Are pine trees the problem or the solution? – Keith Woodford:

Pine-forest regulation proposals are creating lots of heat with big implications for land-use and the landscape. 

Right now, there is a fervent debate underway as to where pine trees fit within our future landscape. On one side stand Forestry Minister Stuart Nash and Climate Change Minister James Shaw. They are proposing that existing legislation should be reversed so that pine trees would only be for production forestry and not so-called permanent forests.

Minister Nash has recently come to a position that only native forests should be permanent, and he is supported by many who hold strong environmental values. Dame Anne Salmond is one of the leaders in that camp.

In contrast, Minister Shaw is concerned that if permanent pine forests are allowed, then too much carbon will be stored in this way and urban people will no longer be forced to modify their carbon emitting behaviours. There are some huge ironies there. . . 

The great Kiwi muster – an ancient tradition with a bougie hut – Olivia Caldwell:

Every autumn, teams of musterers take to the South Island high country to corral flocks of sheep for winter. It’s a custom resistant to change, technology and modern living. Almost. OLIVIA CALDWELL reports.

It’s three o’clock on a cold autumn morning up in the mountains of Lake Heron station.

The first and fittest musterer gets out of bed and walks several kilometres to find where the sheep are scattered around hills.

He’s 17, and it’s called delegating. The seven other team members get to sleep-in until 4am, when they get a wake-up call, followed by a giant breakfast of bacon and eggs. They will need it. Over the next 12 hours, they’ll cover 20 kilometres and 2000 metres elevation on foot. . . 

 

New service to help Ukrainian seasonal farm workers in Scotland :

A new service is to be established to offer vital advice and urgent practical support to Ukrainian seasonal horticultural workers in Scotland.

Ukrainian workers play a key role in soft fruit and vegetable production in Scotland, but due to the war they are facing a range of concerns about their work, their homes, and their futures.

The new Worker Support Centre, run by Scottish charity JustRight Scotland, will provide key support to workers on these issues.

It will also provide immigration advice to enable them to stay and work in Scotland while returning to Ukraine is still unsafe. . .


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