There is a lot of herstory when you bring together a group of women passionate about and dedicated to improving women’s health for more than thirty-three years.
The late 1980s and early 90s were a time of many changes in New Zealand’s health system. As well as what was happening on a national governance level, other significant events occurred during this period. In dozens of small towns and large cities around the country women’s health centres were being set up; many of these centres are still in existence today.
A watershed event was the publication of Sandra Coney and Phillida Bunkle’s article “An Unfortunate Experiment at National Women’s” in Metro magazine. This elicited public outrage and was swiftly followed by what became known as the Cartwright Inquiry.
In the first few years the members of AWHC were incredibly busy: representing both the organisation and women consumers on numerous committees, working groups, task forces, etc.; writing submissions on a wide variety of health issues; meeting with doctors, health board representatives, MPs; collaborating and meeting with other women’s and health organisations, including providing advice and assistance to other women’s health councils setting up around the country; organisation and hosting seminars and conferences as well as helping other organisations with similar events; and setting up subcommittee’s on specialist issues within the AWHC to keep a watching brief on developments in women’s health, influence health entities and effect change for the better. A major contribution was made – together with other organisations – in monitoring and contributing to ensuring that recommendations made by Judge Silvia Cartwright in the Cartwright Report were implemented.
The timeline of our first ten years gives an insight in to just how busy AWHC was. Much of this work was done on a voluntary basis and early funding was from subscriptions and donations. It wasn’t until several years after the AWHC started that community funding enabled a part-time paid co-ordinator to be appointed; even today, community funding is critical to the work of the AWHC and are entirely independent, taking no money from commercial sources and have no Government funding or contracts.
We regularly reflect on our role and consider our relevance. Are we needed anymore? Do we have a role in women’s health in the third decade of the 21st century? Sadly, the reality is, 33 years on from the release of the Cartwright Report into the treatment of cervical cancer at National Women’s Hospital, we seem to be no closer to being in a situation where AWHC, and other organisations lobbying and advocating for improvements in women’s health, have no role, no purpose and no impact. For proof of that, we recommend that you read our Newsletters and our submissions.
While there are positive, heart-warming stories of women’s health and their experiences in our health system, there are still far too many distressing stories of harm, breaches of rights, misdiagnosis, mistreatment, and just plain dangerous drugs and devices. We have an important role in helping to reduce the harm that women experience in the health system and we are not going to stop lobbying and advocating on behalf of women. We are not going to stop telling those stories.
We are a voice for women, and a voice for change.
YWCA PUBLIC AFFAIRS MEETING
Sandra Coney and Lyn Potter speak to a group of women about a number of women’s health issues, including the implications of the proposed Auckland Area Health Board, which was due to form later that year. The focus at this time was on the need to raise the profile of women’s health issues by getting women elected onto Area Health Boards which were being established throughout the country, and supporting women to do this.
AN UNFORTUNATE EXPERIMENT AT NATIONAL WOMEN’S – METRO MAGAZINE
Sandra Coney and Phillida Bunkle’s article “An Unfortunate Experiment at National Women’s” was published in Metro magazine. Their research, and subsequent article, was triggered by the 1984 McIndoe paper, published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, which discussed Herbert Green’s work at National Women’s Hospital on women with abnormal cervical cytology, and suggested that some patients had been diagnosed but not treated.
THE CARTWRIGHT INQUIRY
Reaction to the Metro magazine article was public outrage and within ten days, then Minister of Health, Michael Bassett, established a Committee of Inquiry into allegations concerning the treatment of cervical cancer at National Women’s Hospital, led by Judge Silvia Cartwright. It subsequently became known as the Cartwright Inquiry.
AWHC HELD ITS FIRST FORMAL MEETING
Following several informal meetings about women’s health issues that were held in Auckland during the early months of that year, the first formal meeting of the Auckland Women’s Health Council at the YWCA premises in Carlton Gore Road in Grafton. They were often attended by 40 or 50 women and included several MPs and a female GP. Among many others the meetings were attended by Sandra Coney, Judi Strid, Joan Donley, Lynda Williams and Jo Fitzpatrick.
CARTWRIGHT REPORT RELEASED
Judge Silvia Cartwright’s report, The Report of the Committee of Inquiry was released on the 5th of August and provided a detailed analysis of the evidence presented to the Inquiry as well as the findings and recommendations. It was an emotionally charged time in the herstory of women’s health, and the events that followed would change the way health services were delivered for all New Zealanders. For AWHC, the 5th of August has become a day of reflection and remembrance and we visit the Spirit of peace, outside the entrance to the old National Women’s Hospital, to remember both the women who died and those harmed as a result of the “unfortunate experiment”.
AWHC’S FIRST YEAR
The first year was an incredibly busy one. AWHC set up several sub-committees so members could work on issues of concern: one on the Cervical Cancer Inquiry, one on abortion and one on childbirth issues. The fledgling organisation undertook a wide range of activities, including holding a seminar on area health boards, producing submissions on a variety of issues arising from the recommendations in the Cartwright Report, providing consumer representatives for a number of committees, meeting with MPs including David Caygill (former Minister of Health) and Helen Clark (then Minister of Health), liaising with other organisations and women’s health groups, producing guidelines on several topics, and writing numerous letters to Government agencies and MPs, and health entities.
AUCKLAND HEALTH BOARD
The Auckland Health Board asks AWHC to nominate an AWHC representative on their committee to monitor the implementation of the Cervical Cancer Inquiry to meet fortnightly. Lynda Williams is appointed to this committee.
5 August 1989
A YEAR ON FROM THE CARTWRIGHT REPORT
AWHC holds a first anniversary conference – A Day of Reckoning – an accounting for what had been achieved since the release of the report. Silvia Cartwright, now Dame Silvia, attends, Dame Cath Tizard opens the conference, and speakers include Sandra Coney, Phillida Bunkle and Clare Matheson (‘Ruth’ in the original Metro article). The aim of the conference was to review how many of the report’s recommendations had been implemented by the end of the first year; 400 women attended.
FIRST PATIENT ADVOCATE
Founding member, Lynda Williams is appointed the first patient advocate at National Women’s Hospital, which was one of the recommendations of the Cartwright Report. Lynda held the position until 1992.
WOMEN’S HEALTH RESEARCH WORKSHOP
AWHC facilitates a workshop on the role of the consumer in health research.
BREAST CANCER SUBCOMMITTEE
Later renamed Breast Disorders Subcommittee, this subcommittee was convened to address issues of information for women on screening and detection. AWHC had a representative – providing a consumer voice – on a national group evaluating proposals for pilots for mammographic screening, and members of the subcommittee were involved with organising a Fertility Action seminar on breast cancer.
FIRST AWHC RETREAT
With frequent meetings and so many committed passionate women volunteering for committees, writing letters and submissions and meeting with other organisations and health entities, members were feeling worn out and burnt out, so AWHC held a retreat for members at a venue in the Waipoua Forest near Dargaville; and a wonderful time was had by all.
AWHC becomes an incorporated society; two of the original applicants – founding members of AWHC – have remained on the AWHC Executive Committee and are still very involved in 2022.
EXPERT ADVISORY GROUP FOR THE CERVICAL SCREENING PROGRAMME
Health Minister, Helen Clark asked AWHC to provide a representative from the Council to sit on the Expert Advisory Group for the Cervical Screening programme. The Council unanimously nominated Sandra Coney for the role.
AWHC hold a three-day working retreat at Scott’s Landing (north of Auckland) to discuss the future direction of the AWHC, including funding options, the need for a Council logo and the wide variety of work that the Council is undertaking.
AN AWHC NEWSLETTER
AWHC start producing a monthly newsletter, which was a combination of a summary of the minutes of AWHC meetings recording the work being done by the Council, notices of various events being held by other women’s groups and various other items of interest.
CARTWRIGHT AND BEYOND
AWHC held a second major conference, Cartwright and Beyond. The main theme of the conference is consumer input into health service decision making and how women can shape and control the direction that women’s health takes. Speakers included Sandra Coney, Lynda Williams and Joan Donley. The conference was opened by Ann Hartley, Mayor of North Shore City, and closed by Minister of Health, Helen Clark.
AWHC REP ON HRC
AWHC has a representative appointed to the Health Research Council, the only consumer representative on the HRC.
THE FEDERATION OF WOMEN’S HEALTH COUNCILS
AWHC was the initiated the establishment of an umbrella organisation – a federation of women’s health councils. The AWHC was a major contributor to a two-day retreat held in Huia in West Auckland at which the formation of a Federation of Women’s Health Councils was discussed and the structure for the organisation was debated at length and agreed upon.
A NATIONAL CERVICAL SCREENING PROGRAMME
The NCSP was launched in 1990 and was the first national population-based cancer screening programme in Aotearoa New Zealand. AWHC had a representative on the Expert Advisory Group for the cervical screening programme and was a staunch advocate for the screening programme. Since it’s implementation, the AWHC has made regular submissions on all aspects of the NCSP.
THE AWHC’S FIRST CO-ORDINATOR
AWHC employs Judi Strid as the Council’s first paid co-ordinator, for 25 hours per week. Judi was co-ordinator until early 1995 when she resigned and Lynda Williams was appointed co-ordinator, a role she held for 22 years.
LEST WE FORGET: CARTWRIGHT THREE YEARS ON
To mark the third anniversary of the release of the Cartwright Report was an evening seminar entitled Lest We Forget: Cartwright 3 Years On. The seminar was prefaced with “a simple ceremony for AWHC members at the Spirit of Peace statue, National Women’s Hospital to acknowledge the women who have died and to keep the message of the Cartwright Report alive.” Sandra Coney’s presentation that followed was entitled “The Fate of the Cartwright Report in a No Frills Environment.”
AN OFFICE OF OUR OWN
AWHC moved into its own office joining several health groups on the 2nd floor at 27 Gillies Avenue in Newmarket.
HONOURING BILL MCINDOE AND JOCK MCLEAN
A further memorial to the events at National Women’s Hospital was established. An August-flowering variety of Pohutukawa was planted in a ceremony in memory of Bill McIndoe and Jock McLean, two of the key players in helping to reveal the ‘unfortunate’ events going on at National Women’s Hospital that led to the Cartwright Inquiry.
FIVE YEARS ON FROM THE CARTWRIGHT REPORT
AWHC was occupied with a significant number of events around both the 5th anniversary of the release of the Cartwright Report as well as the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. With Sandra Coney as editor, a number of members of the Council wrote chapters for the Women’s Health Action book, Unfinished Business. This book examined in detail what had happened to the recommendations of the Cartwright Report in the five years since it was published.
THE HEALTH & DISABILITY COMMISSIONER
The Office of the Health & Disability Commissioner was established as a result of recommendations made by Judge (later
Dame) Silvia Cartwrigt in her report on the 1988 Cervical Cancer Inquiry. She stated that there was a strong need for the establishment of a Commissioner as an independent complaints resolution and educational body, and for a Code of patients’ rights. AWHC made submissions on the Health and Disability Commissioner bills which was enacted as The Health and
Disability Commissioner Act in October 1994. The first Commissioner appointed to the role was Robyn Stent. AWHC has maintained a significant and consistent interest in the HDC and has made numerous submissions over the years on issues concerning the HDC.
PROGRESS IN BREAST CANCER
At the beginning of 1995, the AWHC obtained a grant from the Auckland Division of the Cancer Society to organise a workshop on breast cancer screening for representatives from women’s groups to discuss issues related to screening and mammography. However, the focus of the workshop had to be changed following the surprise announcement from the Minister of Health in July to proceed with the establishment of a breast screening programme.
THE CODE OF RIGHTS
The Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights became law on 1 July 1996 and the AWHC was heavily involved in writing submissions and participating in consultation meetings that occurred during the development of the Code of Rights.
TEN YEARS ON FROM THE CARTWRIGHT REPORT
The AWHC held a Saturday morning seminar to celebrate both its 10th anniversary and the 10th anniversary of the release of the Cartwright Report. The speakers included both Sandra Coney and Phillida Bunkle, as well as Moera Douthett, Ramari Maipi, Helen Roberts, David Seedhouse and Heather Worth.