People left photos and lit candles in memory of those they have lost to mark World Suicide Awareness Day. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

Shining a light on Suicide Awareness Day

Clutching photos of loved ones lost, friends and family gathered last night to mark World Suicide Prevention Day.

The clock tower and fountain in Seymour Square in Blenheim were lit up in yellow for a candlelight vigil to mark the day and those affected by suicide.

About 50 people joined together and marked a minute of silence before some took the opportunity to talk briefly about their loss and honour those they have lost through suicide.

World Suicide Prevention Day is held on this day each year to highlight the devastating effects of suicide, and the need to work together to support each other.

Organiser Bary Neal urged those struggling to seek help, saying loved ones left behind in the wake of such devastating loss deserved the chance to live their best lives.

“They wouldn’t want us to suffer forever,” he says.

National helplines

Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Healthline – 0800 611 116

Samaritans – 0800 726 666

Dr Nick Baker says there have been just seven cases of influenza. Photo: File.

Flu rates plummet amid Covid response

Flu rates have dropped dramatically as people take extra care to protect themselves from Covid-19.

Improved hygiene practices such as wearing masks and handwashing have helped keep flu at bay.

Increased immunisation levels mean no one has been hospitalised with flu since January across the Top of the South.

Nelson Marlborough Health chief medical officer Dr Nick Baker says there have been far fewer confirmed cases of influenza in 2020 than in 2019.

“People’s willingness to do simple things that protect them from catching and spreading Covid-19 has protected them from the flu, colds and other viruses such as gastro bugs,” he says.

In, 2019 there were 217 cases of hospital-related flu cases in the Top of the South compared to only 7 this year.

Nick says there have also been less instances of flu and flu-like illnesses in the community.

“GP-based influenza-like-illness surveillance and testing methods changed in 2020 due to the Covid-19 response.

“From the more limited amount of testing done, however, there have been no positive influenza results recorded by GPs.”

Immunisation started much earlier this year as part of the Government’s response to protect people from contracting both influenza and Covid-19.

“In the Nelson Marlborough region we also worked hard to increase immunisation uptake – especially for Māori and Pasifika, refugees, people aged 65 and older, people with existing health conditions and children with health conditions and their whānau members,” Nick says.

“We also had successful immunisation equity this year, Māori, Pasifika and refugees participated in higher-than-usual numbers.”

By July 3, more than 60,400 vaccines had been distributed for use in the Nelson Marlborough region.

This compares to 50,108 by the same time in 2019 and 46,699 by the same time in 2018.

Nurses, receptionists and administration staff picketed in Blenheim. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

Health staff warn over pay gap consequences

Disgruntled medical staff are warning doctors’ surgeries could lose seasoned staff over an ongoing pay battle.

Primary Health Care Nurses (PHC) across Marlborough joined colleagues across the country in strike action on Thursday.

Staff warn the problem is set to get worse and recruitment will become a problem if pay disparity problems are not solved soon.

Gathering at Seymour Square to picket for equal pay in line with District Health Board nurses, staff say they are being paid 10.6 per cent less.

Civic Family Health practice nurse Allison Griggs says while she has the support of practice bosses, their hands are tied.

“We’re losing good nurses with lots of experience because of it.

“They’d rather work for the DHB where they get paid more.”

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) says failed mediation meant the strike was inevitable.

NZNO issued a strike notice covering about 3200 Primary Health Care (PHC) nurses and receptionist/administration staff across more than 500 practices and accident/medical centres nationwide on 19 August.

NZNO union representative Daniel Marshall was at the strike.

He covers the whole of the Top of the South and says the pay gap is set to widen even further.

“There have been long standing issues over pay disparity and it’s about to be amplified as the government considers another pay rise for DHB nurses.

“It’s becoming harder to retain experienced staff and to attract new staff as the gap widens.”

Lister Court Medical reception lead Jo Ball says she had never walked off the job before.

She says she chose to strike as staff were not being fairly recognised for the work they do, especially during the pandemic.

“When we hear about front line services, reception staff are being forgotten about.

“People don’t see us as health care workers, as a nurse or a doctor, but we deal with the fallout from Covid every day.

“We want to feel valued as front line workers,” she says.

NZNO Industrial Advisor Chris Wilson says staff are not being shown how valuable their efforts are, especially during the pandemic.

“We have had enough of constantly hearing how valuable they are when absolutely no effort is being made to show that value in any tangible way.

“We need the Government to urgently do the right thing for the people who help save lives during the perilous time of a pandemic.

“That would be in the interests of everyone in Aotearoa New Zealand right now.”

Hularii Mckenzie and daughter Bailey are asking Marlborough businesses to be aware of accessibility issues during Covid-19 alert levels. Photo: File.

Covid causes access issues for wheelchair users

The family of a young wheelchair user are calling for businesses to help keep vulnerable people safe during the pandemic.

Blenheim parents Hularii and Amber McKenzie are calling for local companies to be more mindful when it comes to protecting disabled customers.

The pair, whose 10-year-old daughter Bailey uses a wheelchair, say hand sanitisers and QR codes for tracking apps are often too high to reach.

“Some can’t see onto countertops or reach high up, for those wheelchair users still needing to access shops and the community a QR code lower can really help.

“This also applies to sanitiser as well, having it lower helps, if it’s high they can’t reach it or it can squirt in their face,” Amber says.

Under Alert Level 2, all shops and business are required to post QR tracking codes to be used with mobile phones or keep a written record of visitors.

But the family of seven, who are currently self-isolating as Bailey has just had surgery, believe more care needs to be taken where posters and sign-in registers are placed.

Bailey, who has a range of conditions, including spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy and epilepsy, uses a wheelchair.

The youngster underwent double bilateral ankle surgery in Wellington earlier this month and is recovering well.

Hularii says he highlights the issue to businesses when he sees a problem.

“There was just a few I’d seen and mentioned it to the place, both here and in Wellington when we were there for surgery.

“All the places approached took it on board really well including making sure sanitiser was at a good height for wheelchair users.

“My understanding is on the back of the QR code sheet are recommendations, so they are at a height wheelchairs users can reach,” Hularii says.

The government recommendation is that the QR code sheets be placed no higher than 130cm.

Hularii says some people are displaying more than one QR code at different height levels to help.

But others people just aren’t aware of the problem,” he says.

“It doesn’t surprise me that some people aren’t aware of it.

“I always say if accessibility is not something you deal with day to day it’s easy to forget to account for because it’s not there, obvious in your face.

“Once people know they are usually very accommodating.

“Though it can be annoying for some, the disabled community can see issues and make others aware of the challenges we face.

“People don’t know what they don’t know.”

A Covid-19 sign at Wairau Hospital. Photo: Matt Brown.

Keyboard error sparks virus fears

Accidently hitting the wrong key on a computer sparked fears Covid-19 had returned to the region.

A Covid-19 test was accidently recorded as positive after a manual entry error.

Community Based Assessment Centre staff in Blenheim were alerted after the positive result was lodged at a laboratory in Nelson.

Staff discovered the mistake three hours later after lab staff checked the results.

The patient was not told of the positive result.

Medlab South Nelson Marlborough Clinical Microbiologist Dr Juliet Elvy says a manual entry error is to blame for the mix up.

“A manual entry error was made in recording the result for a Covid-19 test – due to a key stroke error.

“The incorrect test result was passed on to the Medical Officer of Health and that notification was withdrawn immediately after the error was detected – about three hours later.”

Southern Community Laboratories (SCL) run the labs at Nelson Hospital  and Wairau Hospitals.

All Covid-19 swabs taken by the SCL run Medlab laboratory in Marlborough are sent to Nelson after first being processed at Wairau Hospital.

Dr Elvy says the error was detected before the incorrect result was given to the person who had been tested.

Processes have been changed in the wake of the incident.

“We now have processes in place which mean we no longer rely on manual entry of test results, and all validation of manually entered tests is done by a second scientist,” she says.

The member of staff had been doing an eight-hour shift at the lab when the error occurred.

Laboratories in both Marlborough and Nelson have been swamped processing Covid-19 swabs.

Between 13 and 23 August alone, a total of 3210 tests were done in Marlborough, Nelson and Tasman, including 902 in Marlborough.

The figures come from all test providers; community-based assessment centres (CBACs), GP clinics, after-hours clinics (urgent care) and hospitals and at Port Nelson.

Dr Elvy says staff have processed 10,000 Covid-19 tests from Nelson and Marlborough.

“ …this testing has significantly ramped up since community transmission was detected in Auckland earlier this month.

“We are doing all we can to support our staff who are meeting the unprecedented demands of Covid testing,” she says.

GM Strategy, Primary & Community Cathy O’Malley says Nelson Marlborough Health has full confidence in Medlab South during this unprecedented time.

Zoe Osgood, 13, has been supported by the local community during her bone cancer battle in Christchurch. Photo: Supplied.

Café’s coffee kindness

A café’s bid to help a Blenheim girl dealing with bone cancer has raised more than $5000.

Zoe Osgood, 13, is in Christchurch undergoing treatment for osteosarcoma.

Friends and family in Marlborough have been raising money to help take the financial pressure off her family while they support Zoe.

Ritual Café in Blenheim held a Zoe Week last week, raising $5301. For every coffee sold, staff donated a dollar.

An instore donations box raised $1736 which boss Julie McDonald then doubled.

“It’s been the most outstanding week for the team at Ritual Café.

“I’m hoping that this money will help Zoe and her family in some way.

“Knowing the family, I know that they will be totally grateful to everyone who supported this amazing cause.

All the very best Zoe – you got this girl.”

A Givealittle page has been set up to help, with $39,994 raised as of Monday morning.

Zoe;s mum Michelle Osgood says the community support has been amazing.

“It is truly an amazing gesture. We are absolutely been away.”

Visit givealittle.co.nz to donate by searching under Zoe Osgood.

Writer Gavin Kerr has reprinted his popular poetry book twice. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

Poetry in motion a money spinner

A poetry book written during lockdown has raised $1000 dollars for Alzheimers Marlborough.

Author Gavin Kerr self-published work Under Lockdown has been reprinted twice since it was published last month.

Earlier this week, the Blenheim writer, whose wife Liz died in March from complications relating to Alzheimers, took a cheque to the Wither Road centre.

“The public were very generous in their support, with two reprints being necessary to cater for demand both in New Zealand and in Australia.

“I would especially thank the Marlborough community for their contribution to the project. It was most heartening indeed,” he says.

The former school principal and academic says the support he and Liz had from staff at Alzheimers Marlborough was vital following Liz’s diagnosis.

Alzheimer Marlborough manager Diane Tolley says the organisation appreciates Gavin’s kindness.

“Alzheimers Marlborough was thrilled to receive a very generous donation of $1000.

“Personally, receiving of a copy of the poem “The Lockdown” written twenty days after the passing of Gavin’s wife brought home to us the range of emotions families go through, as the dementia journey progresses.

“We were pleased to be able to support Gavin and his family through their journey and encourage all people affected by dementia to seek the support of the caring staff at Alzheimers Marlborough.

“Having support in place, as soon as possible after a diagnosis, can assist the person living with dementia and their family to continue to lead fulfilling lives,” she says.

Books are still available for $25 from both Marlborough Alzheimers office on Wither Rd or by emailling  [email protected].

Zoe Osgood, 13, has been supported by the local community during her bone cancer battle in Christchurch. Photo: Supplied.

Community rallies after shock diagnosis

A teenager getting physio for what she thought was a sports injury is set for surgery after doctors discovered bone cancer.

Zoe Osgood, 13, from Blenheim was complaining about a sore knee when she got the shock diagnosis after an MRI scan.

Now her friends and family are rallying to raise money for the family so they can spend as much time together as possible as Zoe begins treatment.

Mum Michelle Osgood, who is manager at The Wine Station in Blenheim, says the family are very grateful for the support.

“We are so humbled by the response from the community.

“It has been overwhelming.

“We really feel like we have a village behind us. It’s a sensational feeling. The messages from people really give us strength, especially on a tough day.”

Just before lockdown, Zoe, a pupil at Marlborough Girls’ College, was limping and complaining of a sore knee.

Following physio, the bubbly youngster was given an MRI and diagnosed with Osteosarcoma.

“We assumed it was a sports injury and she had been receiving physio until 10 July when she got an MRI. That was Friday. On Monday our wonderful GP told us to come into the surgery and they had found a 2cm tumour called Osteosarcoma.

“It’s hard to believe, even now,” Michelle says.

Now in week two of treatment, Zoe has just finished her first round of chemotherapy. She faces between 9 and 12 months of further treatment including two cycles of chemotherapy, surgery, then more chemo.

She is in isolation now to protect her struggling immune system, Michelle says.

“She is very tired but coping incredibly. We take one day at a time.

“The five-week chemo cycles are something no child should have to go through however she is very positive in herself and in true “Zoe style” dealing with this in her quiet stoic way. She is one tough cookie.”

Dad Phil and brother Lucas are in Blenheim, hoping to get to Christchurch as much as they can. Zoe and Michelle are dividing their time between Ronald McDonald House and the hospital.

“It is particularly hard to not be here apparently – just waiting to hear how Zoe is…It’s no easier being here, you feel just as useless,” Michelle says.

The family also hope to make it back to Blenheim for a Shave Off fundraiser at Biddy Kate’s Café & Bar on 29 August.

Organised by family friend Donna Tupouto’a, there will be live music on the night and raffles. Entry is $20.

Blenheim’s Ritual Café is holding a Zoe Week between 10 and 16 August, donating $1 dollar for every cup of coffee they sell to hep the family concentrate on getting Zoe well again.

The support means a lot, says Michelle.

“This is a blip in our lives which we will overcome with the help of everyone there in the Boom.”

To donate through Givealittle visit givealittle.co.nz/cause/help-13-year-old-zoe-kick-cancers-arse.

Medlab South union staff have confirmed a 24-hour strike. Photo: Matt Brown.

Hospital lab staff to strike

Hospital lab staff are set to strike for 24 hours in protest over pay.

Union staff have voted to walk off the job next week from Wairau Hospital’s Southern Community Laboratories Ltd run lab.

Nelson Marlborough Health bosses say only urgent tests will be carried out.

General Manager Clinical Services Lexie O’Shea says staff are working in partnership with Medlab South to minimise disruption but warned there may be delays.

“All life-preserving services and emergency services will remain operational.

“Clinically urgent requests sent to the laboratories will be processed during the strike period.

“However, turnaround times may be delayed.”

The strike also affects Nelson Hospital which is run by the same provider.

The Medical Laboratory Workers employed by Southern Community Laboratories (SCL) Ltd are bargaining for a fair pay offer.

Staff have turned down the current rise offer, with union advocates APEX branding the move as unfair.

The offer “goes nowhere near” matching what staff employed by the District Health Board get, says APEX Senior Advocate David Munro

“The current offer from the employer goes nowhere near to matching the salaries of colleagues employed in the DHB run laboratories.

“Under their proposed pay offer a fully qualified scientist would be paid 4 per cent behind a colleague in a DHB lab doing the same work, and a qualified technician 6 per cent behind,” says David.

The strike is scheduled to take place on 17 August from 0800 Monday 17 August to 0800 Tuesday 18 August 2020.

Since lockdown level 4, all blood tests have been done via an appointment system.

Urgent blood tests can usually be done on the same day at either the Maxwell Road or Wairau Hospital collection centres.

Lexi says people should check with their GP before presenting to a collection centre.

“Some non-urgent procedures and tests may need to be rescheduled.

“Any affected patients will be contacted directly. We want to reassure people that unless they hear from us directly, they can assume that their appointment or procedure will be going ahead,” she says.

police

Horror crashes claim three lives, injures more

A third month of horror crashes on a notorious stretch of Marlborough road has turned deadly.

The string of serious accidents on SH1 since May has seen three people killed and many others seriously injured.

But while the road is included as part of a wider safety review, road bosses have put the deaths down to chance.

Seddon man Damian Pollock died on 2 July after a ute left the road between Blind River Loop Road and Tetley Brook Road.

Damian Pollock was killed when his ute left the road at the beginning of July.

His devastated aunt, Theresa Pollock, says people need answers.“If it was driver’s error, we still need answers after hearing so many bad things about the road between Blenheim and Ward.

“If awareness is put out there maybe it could save a life.”

Damian, who just started a new job as a fisheries worker, was the first person to be killed on the road this month.

On Friday, a head-on collision between a ute and an SUV just south of Redwood Pass Road killed one person and seriously injured another.

One person escaped with moderate injuries.

Meanwhile, about ten minutes prior to the fatal accident, a vehicle left the road in the Weld Pass.

An accident on 21 May injured several.

A Waka Kotahi (New Zealand Transport Agency) spokeswoman says safety improvements have recently been proposed for the Weld Pass area and referred to a community engagement report from 2018.

“Clusters of road deaths do occur from time to time but unless they are on the exact same spot they tend to be just part of the range of statistics over time,” the spokeswoman says.

She says if the accidents were in the same place, NZTA staff would be looking at the condition of the highway surface and “anything else” which could be contributing, such as ice patches.

The 22km stretch of highway has had at least six serious accidents requiring emergency services since May.

Timeline

21 May – Young mother Jamie Miller, three children, and one other were rushed to hospital following a crash at the corner of Roadhouse Drive and State Highway 1. Jamie was flown to Nelson Hospital with serious injuries.

12 June – A freight truck and trailer left the road on a sweeping bend near the Blenheim side of Redwood Pass Road. The driver escaped with moderate injuries.

2 July – A ute left the road between Blind River Loop Road and Tetley Brook Road killing the driver, Damian Pollock.

12 July – A car rolled near Riverlands at about 6.20pm, killing the driver, who is yet to be named.

17 July – A head-on collision between a ute and an SUV just south of Redwood Pass Road killed one person and seriously injured another. One person escaped with moderate injuries.