For most of us, mention of the Royal New Zealand Plunket Society conjures up fond and grateful memories of outstanding service to New Zealand babies and their families for over a century, and that culture of practical help continues today. Most of us know of the pioneering work of Sir Truby King. However, without the help of two Māori midwives, Mere Harper and Ria Tikini and the patronage and support of Lady Victoria Plunket (mother of eight) and wife of New Zealand’s Governor-General at the time, Plunket would not be here today.
Carena Nagle is the Clinical Manager for Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Taranaki and Lakes District. This huge area is challenging but Carena remains connected with the work at the frontline. The Hamilton team has 23 clinical staff and a variety of other support staff, including community support co-ordinators.
Recent initiatives that have been implemented include Whirihia, a Māori-led ante-natal programme which integrates Māori birthing traditions with health promotion messaging to improve engagement with whānau Māori. This innovation is currently only available in Waikato and focuses on enriching and embracing tikanga Māori, supporting whānau to navigate health services and learn important parenting skills such as how to get baby to sleep and CPR. Whirihia, which has been available for 12 months in Waikato, is extremely well-attended with hundreds on a waiting list. “A positive ante-natal experience is a great start for families”, said Carena, and a nation-wide roll-out is planned over the next 18 months. Plunket offers other educational programmes to support families throughout Waikato.
Plunket endeavours to address access issues and to eliminate barriers to their service, and the biggest change for Plunket is their more holistic approach: nurses are adaptable and flexible in catering to the needs of each family and they continue to explore ways of providing a service for families to engage with at their pace. Lockdown provided Plunket with an opportunity to trial delivering all of our services on-line. Whilst providing in-person services is their bread and butter, they now have the capability to provide support over the phone and via Zoom and will continue to trial this service with families.
Carena acknowledges that there are good stories and nurses share these weekly. This time of sharing serves as an evaluation, and promotes awareness of community connections and collaborative work with several organisations. It also supports the holistic model of care for babies, maternal health, positive parenting, violence, anxiety and - post-Covid - recognition that some people have not previously had to access social services. These factors, combined with adjusting to life with a new baby, can be very stressful.
Plunket recognises that there is not one way of doing things; that everyone in the household benefits through receiving support and parents appreciate the health and developmental checks and they are looking at ways to improve how they deliver services to best suit the families they support. As Carena said, “there is always scope for innovation and the challenge to make it happen”. The Hamilton team is a “wonderful team who have a heart for making a difference – they go above and beyond – a strong team who are driven to make a difference”
The Well Child programme is funded by the Ministry of Health. The programme has expanded in many directions. Nurses continue to make home visits or families choose to come to the clinics. Home visits may continue for up to five years. Some families may choose not to attend regularly following the two to three-year-old check. However, they know they can make contact or seek referral for a developmental issue at any time.
Plunket appreciates that every parent wants the very best for their children. They also recognise that while having a young baby is very special, it is okay to feel overwhelmed, stressed, tired. A registered nurse is always available to support parents and caregivers 24/7 via PlunketLine.
While Plunket receives some government funding to provide Well Child checks, our community support programmes such as Whirihia, coffee groups and playgroups rely on fundraising. Donations are always warmly received and enable their excellent programmes to continue. And a nation of healthy, happy “Plunket babies” has countless reasons to be grateful to them.