In early 2013 Mercy Hospice Auckland (MHA) responded to a request from the Cook Islands Department of Health for three of their staff to visit Mercy Hospice for hands on experience, with the prospect of establishing a palliative care service in Rarotonga, the most populous of the Cook Islands. This was in recognition of the need locally and also the needs of an increasing number of New Zealand-resident patients who wished to travel to Rarotonga to visit family or to return home in the final stages of their illness. There was also recognition of the number of Auckland-resident Cook Island patients with palliative care needs being referred to the hospice.
The staff included doctor Nini Wynn, registered nurse Moe Kaurarevai and liaison officer Haumata Hosking. Funding for the two clinical staff was provided from the Strengthening Specialised Clinical Services in the Pacific (SSCSiP) Program and Haumata Hosking was able to come with support from an MHA donation which was specifically directed to this.
After a full day’s orientation at Mercy Hospice Auckland the visitors joined individual teams for experience in their areas of interest. This included observation in the hospice itself and community visits with the family support, medical and nursing teams. They also had two days attached to Totara Hospice South Auckland and two days with the Cook Islands liaison and medical staff at Middlemore Hospital.
The team were very positive about their experience and got a good overview of the scope of palliative care and how they might translate this into the Cook Islands setting. We have heard back from them since their return and already there appears to be a commitment to ensuring a palliative care focus in their hospital service. Dr Nini has multiple roles in the Rarotonga health service but has taken palliative care to heart and has since become a member of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine.
The links have been made and we are hopeful that this visit will be just the start of an on-going relationship with the Cook Islands health services. For me personally it was somewhat of a full circle and an opportunity to repay some of the hospitality that was shown to me when I was a medical student on an elective there many years ago. Distant but very fond memories…
This article was originally published on the Asia Pacific Hospice Network website.