Children and youth living in squalor is a national shame, says the NZNO, and nurses share the concerns expressed by a reprimanded South Auckland midwife.
Former Counties Manukau midwife Danielle Hart-Murray’s Facebook post – describing the poor health of many children and the terrible living conditions of some of her clients, including some pregnant due to incest – went viral earlier this month (see post detail below). Her former employer, Counties Manukau DHB, last week asked Hart-Murray to remove the post out of concern that it breached patient privacy. A DHB spokesperson told the New Zealand Herald that staff members had recognised the cases referred to in the post and acted quickly to have the post removed.
Associate Professional Services Manager Hilary Graham-Smith said NZNO was very concerned about the issues expressed by the midwife, who had “bravely shared” her distress about housing, poverty and the resulting infant and child illness. She said the impact of poor housing and poverty and limited access to good health care was a national shame.
“The new government must get people out of living in cars and damp garages and ensure tamariki are physically and sexually safe. This is not a 100-day aim, this is now, immediately,” Graham-Smith said.
She said preventable diseases such as skin infections, rickets and respiratory diseases should not be a feature for any child growing up in Aotearoa.
“Incest resulting in mental and physical trauma and unwanted pregnancies for young women is an indictment on the conditions in which some people live because of poverty, leading to unwanted bed sharing, substance abuse and inadequate accommodation,” said Graham-Smith.
“We are speaking out in support of this midwife to let New Zealanders know the mental health and general health risks when people live in cars and garages and in squalor and call on the next government to urgently turn this shame around.
“We agree with and support Women’s Health Action maternal and child health manager Isis McKay that it is important for health professionals to speak out and highlight these terrible situations and the physical and mental health effect on children.”
The New Zealand Herald reported that in her Facebook post Hart-Murray wrote of the abuse of children from the time they were infants; middle-aged women born in New Zealand who needed interpreters because their parents were immigrants and they didn’t get an education; and a family of six who felt lucky their cousin was allowing them to stay in the single-car garage of the rundown state home he had just been given.
“Its old, cold, there’s no running water, there are rats and it’s mouldy,” Hart-Murray wrote of the garage. “The baby to come will sleep in the bed with the parents and three toddlers, unless I can find an alternative in time. At least the baby will be warm, but that’s not going to improve [the] atrocious rates of SUDI New Zealand has. It’s better than the relatives’ van in a dodgy carpark, where the parents take turns staying awake to protect [the children].”
Hart-Murray also said she would pay for important prescriptions herself from time to time because many families could not afford them once they had paid for food.
One pregnant teenager she saw was forced to live with a relative in a house where she had to share a bed with two teenage boys. Used needles and condoms were on the floor and there was a pile of used adult nappies and human excrement in the house, which didn’t have a toilet.
“I don’t think a lot of New Zealand is aware of what really goes on for so many people here in Aotearoa. It’s a largely hidden shame we’d rather not see.”
Hart-Murray is not working as a midwife after having had successful treatment for a benign tumour. She is now suffering cardiac trouble.
She said on her Facebook page that she had been overwhelmed by the response to the post from midwives who had the same stories to tell.