It has been a whirlwind time for ‘Nurse Florence’  – the pair of nurses whose Facebook page has sparked national march plans, a petition and now t-shirts and bumper stickers.

‘Nurse South’, an enrolled nurse working in acute mental health and ‘Nurse North’, a new graduate nurse, founded the New Zealand, Please Hear Our Voice Facebook page on March 4 as a forum for Kiwi nurses to share stories that gave the public insight into nursing today – both the negatives and positives.

Filling a media silence gap  – while the New Zealand Nurses Organisation waited for confirmation that its district health board members had rejected the 20 DHBs pay offer  – the Facebook group’s members quickly snowballed to reach 45,000 nurse and non-nurse members.  Inspired by the successful ‘Dear David’ midwives social media campaign the Nurse Florence campaign has been seeking public backing for the growing groundswell of nurses’ – both union and non-union members – expressing their struggles and frustration with the impact of current staffing levels and pay on their ability to provide safe patient care across the wider health sector and not just DHBs.

The founders chose to be anonymous – and for nurses to have the option of posting their stories anonymously – to allow nurses to both respect the privacy of their patients and to be able to speak frankly about working conditions.

Out of the page has grown a petition – calling for safer working conditions and better pay – that now has 28,000 signatures.  A plan for a march to deliver the petition to parliament on May 12 (International Nurses Day which marks Florence Nightingale’s birthday) has now grown into plans for 16 marches nationwide.

The marches movement began before NZNO on March 26 announced that DHB members had rejected the DHBs deal and launched its own #HealthNeedsNursing campaign – including national rallies currently underway – and a probable strike ballot and strike if the pay impasse cannot  be resolved by the independent panel process.

Nurse Florence said members of the group reached out last month wanting to set up marches in their area so the idea of national marches just caught on “and we ran with it”.  “We have just been the forum for it, the members in the group have been the driving force behind the marches and have taken responsibility for organising the details for their areas,” said Nurse Florence. “It’s been a great way for everyone to get involved and play a part in the fight nurses are currently facing.”

The pair re-iterated that the group is not affiliated with any union and the marches were a response to work place struggles that all nurses were facing regardless of their union affiliations.  They said they had some communication with NZNO and the feedback they  had received from some within NZNO had been very supportive of Nurse Florence and the marches planned for May 12.

“Similarly, we are supportive of the unions activities and as members we want to see their initiatives succeed,” said the pair. “Both campaigns have very similar goals and are fighting to bring to light how undervalued nurses have been in NZ for a while now, with the hopes of making positive changes in the industry. As a result from the campaigns, nurses voices are being heard and with being heard comes changes.”

Whirlwind time

Nurse South said being one half of Nurse Florence has been a “whirlwind of emotions”.

“You really feel the pressure when you have 45,000 people counting on you to help them be heard and get the attention of the public,” she said. “It makes me feel extremely proud to be behind this with the other Florence, who is still a ‘stranger’ on the other side of the country’. We have had laughter, anxiety and joy working together with this. We love being the creator of such a strong and powerful movement in New Zealand.”

“I have heard nurses at my work talking about ‘Florence’ and how much they love the page, how they feel united and no longer alone in their struggles. It has been really rewarding for us both.”

Nurse North agreed it had been a whirlwind of a journey being one of the Nurse Florence’s.

“The first few weeks were hectic, juggling work, family and the page was hard. There were moments where both of us ‘Florences’ were overwhelmed at what we had started. The movement has grown a life of its own and was pretty time consuming there for a while.”

“There has been some stressful times but when things have gotten tough the ‘Florences’ have banded together and reminded each other of the true purpose of the page and drawn strength from that.”

The pair said it now had some amazing volunteers who were helping moderate the page and they would be lost without them.  “Having those ladies working with us to manage the page has been a blessing and we Florence’s now have a good balance between work and the group.”

T-shirts to badges

The Florences had also launched  t-shirts to support the movement and marches and has now added kids t-shirts and hoodies in response to members interest.

“We had a nurse in Canterbury contact us wanting to do bumper stickers which she has said “blown up”, and she is now getting heaps of messages and orders a day now for the #hearourvoices bumper stickers.”

The pair said others are working on getting badges for supporters wanting to wear them at work.  It also had interest from members of the public and other health professionals – including ambulance officers, healthcare assistants and doctors – wanting badges to show their support for the #hearourvoices campaign and the nurses of New Zealand.  “We have been blown away”.

“We are in the process of putting together a book/eBook to remember this movement, stories and put a bit of the ‘Florences’ out into the world.”

Meanwhile the petition was still growing and it was hoping to match the number of signatures to the number of members before they march on parliament on May 12.

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