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3 min read

Restoring the heart of nursing: Lessons from History and the Future of NPANZ

As the Nurses Professional Association of New Zealand (NPANZ) makes its debut, it is important to consider lessons learned from both the distant past and recent history. We must ask ourselves how these experiences can ensure we restore the heart of nursing and provide nurses with a voice that is truly representative.

Whilst I believe in collectivism, I stand firmly against the ideology that ‘one size fits all’ and obscures individual rights. The individual and the collective matter. Human rights should never be sacrificed for the ‘good of society’. Why? because society is represented by individual living souls who are each responsible for their own world view, their own beliefs and actions. Collectively they bring life, breath, colour, passion, free will and common sense to an otherwise grey and dismal world. With the advent of AI, it is imperative we remember and acknowledge the humanity and the rights our ancestors have gifted us. These rights extend to individual nurses and carers, who each possess an inalienable right to provide for themselves and their whanau, to work in an area of their choosing, and to take medical treatments of their choice.

The Covid-19 pandemic has proven nurses are resilient. The same pandemic has also been polarising as hundreds of nurses, carers and other healthcare workers faced mandates. Regardless of where we sit in the vaccine debate, most nurses agree, that freedom of choice and informed consent are vital for ourselves and our patients alike and should be a cornerstone of any system that purports to be democratic and inclusive.

Whilst I am proud of improvements in the workplace including quality and safety of care, I believe we can, and should do better. Despite the many gains, such as advances in skills and knowledge, there remains a disconnect between nurses at the coalface and those designing and implementing national nursing policy and strategy.


In 2023, the five-thousand nurse deficit has become even more evident as pandemic challenges increase the demands on services. Wards and units are closing, pay equity continues to be elusive for the community sector, pay rates lag behind inflation, surgical backlogs and inappropriate skill mix are common, code red/blacks occur regularly, nurse burnout is a common occurrence, observed quality of care is waning and safety concerns are growing. Despite financial rewards, nurses are weary of hearing promises from the government, politicians and policymakers that never materialise.

We acknowledge that there is no magic bullet answer to the problems nurses are facing. Creative solutions and a multi-pronged approach are required. NPANZ believes in getting back to basics; Go local and focus on the individual workplace. We are encouraging members to think outside the box and we welcome cross union collaboration and representation.

The NPANZ Constitution allows us to represent all members, dealing with issues from the ground upwards. This approach has previously been dismissed because it gives way too much power to the workers – exactly the way we want it! This way of working will be challenging for those who prefer to lead from the top and for those who are used to others doing the mahi for them. NPANZ offers a flexible ‘boutique approach’ as opposed to a blanket-wide one which undermines the unique needs of different groups of nurses.


Nothing is off the table and we are keen to hear from members on all kinds of issues, from effective transition for IQNs and leadership development to taking meal breaks, dealing with bullying and how to read your payslip! We want to be your ‘go-to’ for problem resolution and solution development.

Finally, we will respect the scientific method and not be afraid of debate, even when it is at odds with the prevailing narrative. We will not be dictated to by funders or sponsors but will remain open and transparent.

My role as President, alongside our Executive team is to start thinking strategically about ways we can facilitate a better, stronger, fit-for-purpose nursing workforce. How can we make a difference and improve things moving forward?

NPANZ intends to do things differently. Run by nurses for nurses, with no political affiliations we are intent on being part of the process not only to heal the broken nursing workforce, but to nurture, and grow her into a healthy future.

Come join us.

Deborah Cunliffe

(NPANZ President).