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Vaccination Access - Western Star column

September 06, 2021 Share

Originally published as a column in The Western Star

Older people from Western Southland, to Bluff have contacted me about delays in the Covid-19 vaccination programme.

Seniors tell me that they’re worried that they haven’t had their shots and they’re confused about what to do, with the latest threat of the Delta variant adding to their concern.  

There appears to be no plan around the way that the vaccination programme is being rolled out in Southland, with the SDHB admitting that they’re not sure of the numbers in each group needing vaccinations.

I’ve heard of Southlanders as young as 18, without any pre-existing medical conditions, being called up for their shots, while people in their 70s are still waiting.

The Covid-19 roll-out officially began around NZ on February 20. It’s disappointing that over five months later many vulnerable local people in Southland are still unprotected.

The vaccination of Group 3 people (those regarded as being at risk of getting very sick from Covid-19) started in early May.

It's concerning that those aged 55-59 are now eligible for their vaccinations, with this overlap likely to add to the confusion and further exacerbate the concern amongst unvaccinated older people.

Clearly getting the elderly vaccinated should be a priority. I urge anyone who has concerns to be proactive - call the vaccination hotline on 0800 28 29 26 and ask for an appointment.

SDHB Southland Times column

September 06, 2021 Share

Originally published as a column in The Southland Times

The serious issues facing the Southern District Health Board continue to mount as the health crisis in our region grows.

Increasing waiting lists for cancer and orthopaedic patients, a shortage of beds, pressure on the emergency department, staff shortages, and a lack of operating theatres, plague the organisation, while at the end of May the budget deficit was $23 million.

I continue to hear from Southlanders who are caught up in the system or are desperate for the surgery that they need.

GP's and surgeons alike tell me they have growing concerns about the welfare of their patients, describing people in chronic and debilitating pain, losing their quality of life while they languish on waiting lists.

SDHB members, at their most recent meeting, talked of developing a long-term plan to improve health services in Southland, but this provides little comfort for those in need right now.

The board has commissioned consultancy company Sapere to develop a site master plan for the hospital, but I’d suggest the board also needs to consult with its staff and patients to be advised of the issues which exist at our hospital.   

The SDHB is also considering an upgrade of its embattled emergency department (ED) in Invercargill.

However, CE Chris Fleming was recently reported as saying he did not want to “over-resource the department, relative to what the demands on the department should be.”

This makes me wonder whether a lack of funding and the board’s limited budget, rather than the future needs of Southland people, will be the rationale behind this upgrade.

Apathy and inaction has plagued Southland Hospital for too long, with many of the current issues relating back to its construction in 2005.

At that time the focus of the build was on cost-cutting, rather than on the construction of a hospital which would meet the future health needs of this province, with relevant census population figures ignored in favour of more conservative data.

Now 16 years later we are in the middle of a health crisis that will be hugely expensive to fix and may simply be too late for some Southlanders.

At just 115 beds and 2.9 theatres per 100,000 people, Southland has nearly 60 percent fewer beds per 100,000 people than neighbouring Otago - and 37 percent less theatre space.

These are significant issues which cannot wait for the board’s long term plan and need to be addressed now.

Southland board members have voiced their concerns about Southland Hospital, saying that they have been working to address issues for 12 months, but their pleas appear to have fallen on deaf ears. (fyi: Terry King)

One such board member recently said that conditions at the hospital were a risk to both patient and staff safety. (fyi: Kaye Crowther)

However, they also said that turning the SDHB around was like turning the Titanic.

I would hope that the comparison with the Titanic is inaccurate – because we all know what happened to that ship.

Simmonds urges calm in wake of isolation news

August 21, 2021 Share

Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds is urging local people to remain calm in the wake of news that some Mitre 10 Southland staff are in isolation after attending a national awards dinner where a bartender tested positive for Covid-19.

"At this stage those who attended the Auckland event are simply getting tested and are isolating at home. It is a precaution, they are absolutely doing the right thing and I urge people to be calm and considerate in the way they react to this news.

"Remember, any possible infection is completely out of the control of the people who are involved and they will no doubt be feeling concerned and anxious until their results are known. 

"I would like to offer them my support and commend Winton Mitre 10 manager Craig Flynn for being so upfront about the situation. He posted last night on his business' Facebook page and reassured customers and contacts that he and his family were doing the right thing in isolation.

"We all know how concerning Covid-19 is and how very transmissible the Delta strain can be. However, I would urge people to remain calm until the official test results are made clear.

"The best thing that Southlanders can do at this time is to continue to follow level four restrictions and remain at home whenever possible."

Covid-19 rollout behind schedule in Southland

August 11, 2021 Share

Southland has one of the poorest Covid-19 vaccination rates in the country and Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says she is concerned about the slow-moving roll out in this province.

“I have Ministry of Health data which shows that up to August 3, the Southern District Health Board (SDHB) has vaccinated 13,039 fewer people than it had anticipated.

“While the target was 142,344, only 129,305 people have been vaccinated so far, putting SDHB 9 per cent behind their plan and placing us 12th out of the DHBs.

"These figures are disappointing and quite alarming especially with the threat of the new Delta variant looming and locking down large parts of Australia. We really need to see better results in the South.

“There appears to be no plan around the way the local programme is being administered, with the SDHB admitting it’s not even sure of the exact numbers in each vaccination group.

“I'm particularly concerned that some vulnerable Southlanders, aged over 70 and over, are still waiting on their vaccinations. While I've heard of people as young as 18, without any pre-existing medical conditions, being contacted to have their jabs.

"The vaccination of people in Group 3, which includes those over 65,is months late and it's disappointing that there are still elderly people who appear to have still not received a single dose.

“Of more concern, we now have people in Group 4 aged 50 and over who are being invited to come forward. This overlap will likely add to the confusion and further exacerbate concerns amongst our unvaccinated senior citizens.” 

Forest and Bird Southland court action premature and heavy handed

August 10, 2021 Share

Forest & Bird is premature in taking the Southland District Council to court over coal exploration in Western Southland and local ratepayers will pay the price, says Invercargill National MP Penny Simmonds.

“Forest & Bird is seeking a judicial review of a decision by the Southland District Council to grant a coal company access to forestry land near Nightcaps, citing climate change concerns.

“Forest & Bird is being overhasty in its legal action against the SDC. The council has simply granted exploratory access to the land at this time – any future removal of coal would still require a new publicly notified resource consent process.

“For Forest & Bird to seek a judicial review of a decision which is yet to actually involve coal mining is premature and heavy-handed, because decent Southlanders could face a hefty legal bill.

“It’s also disappointing that Forest & Bird has chosen litigation in the first instance, before even approaching the council with its concerns.

“Last year we imported more coal into our country than we have in 14 years, and it’s anticipated that this year coal imports will break that record. This makes a mockery of Forest & Bird’s court action.

“Of course we must transition to more sustainable energy sources, no one is debating that, but in the meantime if we’re not producing coal here it’s likely it will be imported into our country anyway.”

Treatment of Auckland academics veiled censorship

August 04, 2021 Share

The treatment of a group of Auckland University professors, who raised concerns about proposed changes to science in the school curriculum is nothing short of veiled censorship, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Penny Simmonds says.

Seven professors signed a letter raising concerns about an NCEA working group's proposed changes to the school curriculum that would ensure parity for ‘mātauranga putaiao’ (Māori knowledge) with science and have been widely criticised.

“Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the views of these academics, it is their treatment in the wake of the publication of their views that is of huge concern,” Ms Simmonds says.

“Our universities are legislated to be the critic and conscience of society and are therefore obligated to engage in debates such as this. Freedom of speech is the backbone of our democracy.

“To have these academics reviled and shut down by organisations such as Auckland University and the Tertiary Education Union is a form of censorship which moves us into very dangerous territory.

“History has shown us what happens to countries that control the freedom of speech of academics – we do not want to encourage that kind of suppression in New Zealand.”

Media contact: Julia Stewart 021 869 537

Concerns that nursing shortages risk patient safety

August 02, 2021 Share

The Southern District Health Board (SDHB) is putting patients at risk due to a shortage of nurses on hospital wards, Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says.

“A new report presented to the Southern District Health Board paints a distressing picture of the impact poorly staffed wards are having on patients at both Southland and Otago hospitals.

“Patient safety is being compromised and it is a huge concern.

“Hospital patients are vulnerable and rely on staff for support - to have inadequate nursing numbers on a ward is both unacceptable and worrying.

“It’s also unfair to put the nurses themselves under this pressure, especially with the risk of errors increasing as staff are stressed and overworked. 

“The SDHB needs to make addressing these nursing shortages a priority - to leave the issue is to sacrifice safety and put lives at risk.”

Southland Times column

July 19, 2021 Share

Originally published as a column in The Southland Times

Roads are our lifeblood. I’m particularly concerned about the economic impact on Southland if our roading infrastructure can’t be kept up to scratch.

The Southland District Council is currently grappling with some tough decisions around the future of our aging road network after the Government recently cut funding by $7.5million.

The situation in Southland is dire and the statistics make sober reading.

There are currently 1081 bridges, including 239 stock underpasses, across the province. Of those 161 are reaching the end of their lives and need replaced. To fix them all would cost $34 million – money Southland ratepayers can’t afford, while the Government appears to have turned its back on the problem.

Already five bridges have been closed, including Welsh, Scott, Nelson, McLeish Roads and Thomson Crossing Road West, and another 66 bridges are on weight restrictions, meaning heavy trucks must use a detour.

And the news is not good, with the Government’s recent road funding cuts likely to force more bridge closures and increased use of detours.

For example, the Dipton-Mossburn Bridge needs to be replaced within 12 months – and currently involves a 20Km detour.

One Southland farmer could face a 10Km detour just to get from one side of his farm to the other - if his bridge is closed, while one working mum has told me a nearby bridge closure has added an extra 20 minutes on her return trip to work.

Naturally communities don’t appreciate these detours – adding additional kilometres to the many hours’ rural people already travel, not to mention additional road user charges and fuel costs.

While the forestry, sheep, beef and dairy sectors all need good roading infrastructure to remain competitive and viable.

These are serious issues which affect the economic viability of our communities. Southlanders pay their taxes, just like Aucklanders, and yet time and again we are short-changed.

The gross domestic product, generated per capita in Southland, is amongst the most significant in the country.

According to Stats NZ, in the year ended March 2020, of the 15 regions in NZ, Southland had the fifth highest rate of GDP per capita, with only Taranaki, Auckland, Wellington, and Malborough ahead of us.

We pull our weight economically, that’s why the Government’s road funding cuts are such a bitter blow because they undermine the productive heart of this region, they sabotage our ability to grow Southland’s economy and they erode our strength as an agricultural and manufacturing region.

This coupled with details of a $765 million spend for a cycling and walking bridge in Auckland and the recent car taxes on vehicles which are not electric, has really impacted the South and created huge concern.

I have been overwhelmed by calls from local people and my Facebook page has been inundated and I intend to take these community concerns to Wellington.

National is calling on the Government to can its multi-million dollar Auckland cycling and walking bridge and I intend to campaign hard to get more funding to keep our roads and bridges open.

Aged Care Shortage - Whats on Invers column

July 19, 2021 Share

Originally published as a column in Whats on Invers

There’s a critical aged care nursing shortage in Southland.

I want to find a way to help our community address this problem and encouraging overseas trained nurses, already living in this region, to upskill could provide a solution.

It’s understand that there are a number of overseas trained nurses living in Southland who currently don’t have New Zealand recognised qualifications to work in local facilities.

I’m currently talking with local organisations, including SIT, Great South and Presbyterian Support Southland, on a solution which could see these nurses given support to up skill to New Zealand qualifications through a local bridging course.

Anecdotal evidence suggests there may be up to 30 overseas trained nurses living in Southland, if we could get even some of these people up skilled to work at local rest homes, it would be a positive step forward.

I am encouraging any oversea trained nurses in the South to come forward and discuss the options.

I have already had meetings with local and national aged-care providers who are genuinely worried about whether they can continue to provide care for vulnerable elderly people in Southland.

The Labour Government’s focus appears to be elsewhere. It is more willing to spend $486 million on layers of bureaucracy and health restructuring, rather than on investment where it’s needed, by backing nurses and the aged care sector.

Support farmers standing up to the Govt

July 14, 2021 Share

Support farmers standing up to the Govt 

Farmers have had a guts full of this Government, Invercargill MP and National’s Associate Agriculture spokesperson Penny Simmonds says.

I pledge my support for the ‘Howl of a Protest’ gatherings in Gore, Invercargill and Te Anau on Friday.

“Let’s show this Government that we’re not going to sit back and take it!

“Farmers tell me they’re sick and tired of the on-going political interference in their businesses.

“The unnecessary and punitive rules, regulations and taxes are forcing some farmers to the brink - both financially and mentally.

“We all feel it’s time to stand up and make ourselves heard - if you take farming out of the economy then this country will be brought to its knees.

“This is the message that needs to be driven home to this Labour Government and I am right behind Southland farmers in making sure that they’re heard.

“The protests are being organised by Groundswell, a community based group formed as a result of the unworkable Freshwater reforms in Southland. It has expanded nationwide and the recent Ute Tax announcement has seen urban communities become involved as well.

“It’s clear Labour doesn’t understand how farms operate, or the work farmers are doing in order to achieve better environmental outcomes.

“Farmers recognise the need for environmental change and are actively working to achieve these goals. Unfortunately they’re getting no credit and instead more and more heavy handed regulations are being hammered home.

“National understands and we value farmers. We are the Party for rural New Zealand, the Party whose foundations were built on the farming families of New Zealand.

“I will be at the Invercargill protest on Friday.”