11 Apr 2019

Parents, nurses and PM celebrate PlunketLine's 25th birthday

From Checkpoint, 6:24 pm on 11 April 2019

The parents of a newborn who fell ill with potentially lethal meningitis say they are incredibly grateful for PlunketLine.

Their story was among dozens shared at PlunketLine's 25th birthday party in Wellington today.

Plunket's chief executive also used the opportunity to publicly promise to reinvent itself to offer better services to Māori whanau.

At just 19 days old, baby Isla woke up grizzly and hot from an evening nap.

After rejecting a feed, her mum Francesca Jurgeleit called PlunketLine, not knowing what was happening to her firstborn.

"They asked us lots of questions and then they said not to muck around a go straight into hospital," Mrs Jurgeleit said.

"Then the nightmare unfolded."

The results of a lumbar puncture showed baby Isla had bacterial meningitis.

"It was really terrifying... for the first 24 to 36 hours we weren't told, no-one could really say if she'd make it," she said.

She and her husband were "inconsolable", she said. Their newborn was not even three weeks' old and was admitted to ICU, spending nearly a month in hospital all up.

Fortunately, they got her to the Emergency Department early enough that there were no lasting effects, she said.

"We're very, very lucky and so grateful for PlunketLine," she said.

Mrs Jurgeleit's was one of more than two million calls to PlunketLine over the last 25 years.

The 24 hour, free telephone support service takes about 300 calls a day from parents and caregivers, who call up asking for help with anything from a baby who will not sleep, is struggling to feed, or is seriously ill.

Manager Denise Shera said late last year, it introduced a video calling service to offer breastfeeding support.

"There's this assumption that everyone finds it a natural thing to do, but for a lot of mums it's not and they have issues with breastfeeding," she said.

The service runs on a free cellphone video calling app, so a Plunket nurse can see what is happening, and even demonstrate using a baby dummy, and a knitted breast.

It's a same or next-day service, which Ms Shera says is far better than waiting three weeks to see a lactation consultant.

The government was absolutely committed to improving the outcomes for all tamariki, said Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter.

"The work that parents do in that first one thousand days is very literally building our future society. And while government is absolutely committed to putting in that support, without institutions like Plunket, we would have nothing to build from," she said.

Plunket chief executive Amanda Malu, of Ngai Tahu, agreed, but said Plunket needed to reinvent itself.

"We want every New Zealand child to get the best possible start, no matter where they live," she said.

The days of a 'one size fits all' service had to go, she said and support had to be tailored to suit specific communities.

"Not all families start out equal. Some families are so far behind the start line they've been lapped before they even begin.

"That's what leads to inequity, and that's why so many of our families need much more support from us - and that's just to get them to the start line," she said.

"We know that Maori are disproportionately represented across a wide range of negative outcomes, whether it's health, education, social or justice.

"Yet Plunket's very roots lie in improving outcomes for Maori... but if we're honest we haven't maintained that focus over the years.

"Today, Plunket is stepping up to change that. We're reinventing ourselves and recognise we have a role in changing the system.

"Our organisation has a unique opportunity, and in fact more than that - we have an obligation - to help deliver better outcomes for Maori and focus on the wellbeing of Maori whanau and tamariki. We are unashamedly prioritising this above all else," she said.

That would mean Plunket's services would change to better meet the needs of the most vulnerable and isolated families, Ms Malu said.