Plenty of fallout from suspension episode

Monday October 29, 2018 Published in Letters to the Editor

Dear Editor,

Regarding a story in CINews on October 23, headlined “Cook Islands nurses suspended”.


This story about how members of the Cook Islands Nurses’ Association (CINA) had been suspended came after a successful Pacific nurses’ conference was held in Rarotonga the week previously.

Did the nurses executive deserve to be treated the way they were?

It seems to me that both Health minister Rose Browne and Health secretary Dr Josephine Aumea wanted to stand their ground and make their mark to show the world they are in charge, and they fired the nurses’ association executive without warning.

It all started during the conference when the Cook Island nurses staged a surprise showcase of Cook Maori traditional customs in recognition of former Cook Islands nurse and Health secretary Liz Iro. She has achieved the highest honour and is now working at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, representing nurses on the worldstage. 

It seems the Health minister and secretary viewed this performance as a breach of VIP protocol and were unhappy that the event was not mentioned in the programme.

I have been told that both of them met with the CINA executive on three separate occasions to discuss what had happened. The last meeting was held on Monday October 22, without giving any room for the nurses to respond. I understand it was verbally put to them on the spot that they were suspended effective immediately, as directed by the Health minister.

Was this personal or was it a show of power to demonstrate she is in charge? It left all the suspended nurses with having to convey the message to their loved ones that they have been suspended from their work. When the minster travelled to Atiu on Monday of last week, she clearly must have known everything that was taking place in Rarotonga against the nurses.                 

Never in the history of the Cook Islands has there been anything like this – the dismissal of a group of nurses, the lifeline of the Health Department. Those nurses have served the “It Tangata Kuki Airani” with years and years of hard work, and have made many sacrifices for the ministry. 

Did the Health minister really think that suspending them was the right thing to and did she take into account the risk suspending so many nurses could have posed to the people of this country? 

I am told the minister’s efforts to contact the Ministry of Health and tell them not to involve the media were blown out of the water when the story of what had happened went viral on Facebook. Apparently she then told the Health secretary to reinstate those nurses, but by then it was too late. Messages were coming from people around the globe who had attended the conference, giving their strong support for the nurses. Hello, the world was looking at the Cook Island nurses’ grievance regarding how they had been traumatised by their suspension and its effect on their immediate families.

Was the prime minister informed of the situation and of the next step that the nurses were about to take with the support of doctors, to stage a mass walkout from the hospital? I believe that if this had happened, any loss of life from the nurses’ action would then have been in the hands of the Health minister. 

A story in CINews on October 24 pointed the finger of blame at the breach of protocol that nurses allegedly needed to be aware of. But let’s not be confused here. The conference was for nurses from around the Pacific and not for ministers of the Crown. It seems to me that the Health minister and the secretary made their move to suspend the nurses without gauging the extent of the outraged response from the public regarding their actions.

The CINA executive will not back down and I believe that nurses’ rights need to be aired so that the nation as a whole will see how they are treated by those in power in government.

Nurses deserve more than the threat they received and they have no need to apologise for the involvement of the media. The minister and the secretary both need to face it, because there will no doubt be more coverage of this matter.

            Tumu Kuki Airani

(Name and address supplied)

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