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Anger and dismay about threat to women’s health service

A trusted women’s health service used by thousands of Palmerston North women over more than three decades is fighting for survival.

The MidCentral District Health Board plans to end its contract with Te Hā o Hine-ahu-one Women’s Health Collective to provide sexual health services for poor and vulnerable women in August, slashing the bulk of its $90,000 of funding.

Manager Jean Hera said the decision had come as a shock.

“We will be lobbying hard to change the decision and keep our doors open.

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It had appealed to various government ministers, and Women’s Minister and Associate Health minister Julie Anne Genter had agreed to investigate.

The board’s Healthy Women, Children and Youth operations executive Sarah Fenwick said the decision was about setting priorities and saving money.

She said the district had enough other sexual and reproductive health services, including better access to contraception such as long-acting contraceptive devices and implants for low-income women.

The decision was in line with a review of sexual and reproductive health services in 2015, Fenwick said.

Hera said she had not seen that report, and had received no indication it could have implications for the women’s centre, which was there to empower women and their families to have more control over their health and fertility.

Member of the collective‘s governance group Rachel Buck said the prospect of losing the centre was scary, and women were sad and angry.

“What are they thinking?

“I don’t think they have a handle on what we do, and $90,000 is just bubblegum money for them.”

Buck’s first contact with the centre was in 1991 when she was a client of Women’s Refuge, which was in the same centre at the time, and found she was pregnant with twins.

She said she did not just get a pregnancy test, but “truckloads” of support and the information she needed to make her own decision about what to do.

She kept the babies, but said the collective staff would not have been judgmental whatever she chose.

Buck went on to do a social work placement with the collective, and has been a volunteer there for 14 years.

She said the centre was important because it supported women in a holistic way, rather than just providing procedures and referrals.

District health board member Barbara Robson said she was saddened to see what could be the end for a place where the most vulnerable women in the community felt safe, and could get services, support and information without judgment.

She said the board’s apparent focus on clinical services was “not the whole story” in dealing with women’s overall health ne.

In the year to March 2018 the collective had just short of 6000 client contacts.

Its most popular service, pregnancy testing and information services, was used by nearly 2500 women.

The board intended to continue its contract to provide cervical cancer screening for priority women.

But Hera said it would be difficult to support that work given such a knock to its income.

“We can’t operate if we lose half our income.”

Other services provided included a lending library, provision of condoms, one-to-one support to access other health services, and appointments with a visiting counsellor, osteopath and naturopath.

The centre has a manager, two staff and two relievers. None of the roles are full-time.

 

 

 

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