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Lobbying MP is imortant work; a practice nurse tells why she decided to lobby two local MPs about pay parity for primary health care nurses, shares what she learnt from the experience and urges other nurses to get involved in such lobbying.

When I recently received an email from NZNO organiser Huia Welton seeking nurses to attend meetings with two Wellington MPs to lobby them regarding pay parity for primary health care (PHC) nurses, I thought it sounded like something I would be interested in. The meetings were with MP for Ohariu, Peter Dunne, and MP for Rongotai and former Health Minister, Annette King. As I work in one of these electorates and live in the other, the request seemed tailor-made for me. Also, both meetings were scheduled for times I could attend without too much difficulty, so I thought "why not?"

Concerned about pay disparity

I was motivated to get involved in the pay parity campaign for PHC nurses at the end of 2004 when the district health board (DHB) settlement was achieved, leading to significant disparity between the sectors. On behalf of the Capital and Coast PHC Nurses' Reference Group, I wrote to NZNO's then organising services manager Laila Harre expressing our concern. At a subsequent meeting we addressed the issue with both Harte and then industrial adviser Cee Payne-Harker. Both reassured us that pay parity for the PHC sector would follow, but that there would be a delay before this occurred.

Now is clearly the time for me to take some further action. Huia and I met before the first meeting so we could discuss and plan our approach. She gave me a copy of the NZNO regional lobbying kit, which provided some really useful tips on how to lobby. I already had some information on lobbying as part of a postgraduate paper I undertook a few years ago. As part of the paper, Central Christchurch MP Tim Barnett presented a session on lobbying to the students and gave us some information, which I re-read in preparation for the meetings. As well as the lobbying information, there was a fact sheet outlining the key facts and back ground information about the pay parity campaign.

This was useful to refresh my memory and also to have on hand during the meetings so I had a guide to refer to. The first meeting was with Peter Dunne who, as well as being a local MP, is an Associate Minister of Health. He started the meeting by admitting he didn't really know much about practice nurses and asked me if I could tell him what we actually do. I was pleased to tell him that nowadays many practice nurses run their own clinics in areas such as chronic illness management, diabetes, asthma, women's health and cervical screening, men's health checks, as well as immunisations including the recent MeNZB programme. He was pleasantly surprised to hear how many skills practice nurses have and how much autonomy we have in our work. He then indicated that, like many New Zealanders, he had not realised the DHB nurses' pay increase did not include PHC nurses. He was supportive of our approach and agreed there was indeed a need to ensure pay parity was achieved.

The following day we met King. As was to be expected, she was much more aware of the issues. While she listened to what we had to say, she emphasised several times that there had been a huge amount of money injected into PHC already and there was more coming soon. I felt that she expected any pay increases for PHC nurses should come out of this money. She was very willing to listen to our submission, however, and also agreed it was essential pay parity was achieved.

I found both meetings enjoyable, with both MPs pleasant, extremely approachable and easy to talk to. It is always good to be able to promote practice nursing and our work, particularly to Peter Dunne whose knowledge was relatively limited. I also found my knowledge of the Government's PHC Strategy, gained during my studies, was helpful, in particular being able to quote the emphasis placed on nurses' role in its implementation.

I imagine many nurses would feel rather nervous and reluctant about such meetings but I found the whole experience very positive and would certainly recommend it as a way of both advancing pay parity and promoting PHC nursing.

Strong support

Another barrier for many is difficulty getting time off to attend such meetings. I am fortunate my employers have always strongly supported me in undertaking such activities but this is not the case for many nurses. The support I had from Huia, who did a marvellous job in presenting the facts about both pay parity and the Fair Share for Aged Care Campaign, which we also covered, was really good. It helped me feel confident about what we were doing. I think we made a good team, with my practical onthe-job information and her background knowledge of the issues.

I would certainly recommend that other PHC nurses lobby their local MPs if they have the opportunity. It is vital we get the pay parity message to them as I imagine there are many other MPs who, like Peter Dunne, are not aware of the issues and the current pay disparity. It is also our campaign and for it to be successful, PHC nurses must be involved.

Cathy Mitchell, RN, BN, PGDipPHC, is a practice nurse at the Brooklyn Central Health in Wellington.
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Title Annotation:VIEWPOINT
Author:Mitchell, Cathy
Publication:Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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