Obituary for PHA President Dr Fran McGrath

06 Nov 2019 2:47 PM | Anonymous

Obituary for Dr Fran McGrath


Iti rearea, teitei Kahikatea ka taea

As the smallest bellbird can reach the highest kahikatea tree in the forest

age does not limit our success

We were saddened and shocked to learn yesterday of the sudden death of our new President Fran McGrath on Sunday. Fran had only just begun her term last week, and Wellington Branch were looking forward to celebrating with her at their AGM last night the success of the branch’s remit at the national AGM, to grant Fran a Lifetime Membership to the PHA.

Fran was certainly worthy of such a remit. She had a long and distinguished career in our health sector. She completed a medical degree at Otago University in Dunedin, followed by volunteer positions in rural and low income communities, which lead her to specialise in public health at the University of Otago Wellington. The wide range of experiences in Fran’s career is worth noting; she worked across many areas of the New Zealand health sector as well as in developing countries, including Central America and Thailand and spent a year working in the Cook Islands. She served on several World Health Organization expert groups and represented New Zealand at a number of meetings of the World Health Assembly. After many years working at the Ministry of Health Fran had only recently retired as Chief Advisor in the Office of the Chief Medical Officer. She also served as Deputy Director of Public Health and as senior health advisor to a number of Health Ministers over the years.

In addition to these demanding paid roles, Fran never stopped contributing to the sector in a voluntary capacity. She was on the Oxfam NZ Board and also very involved in the NZ College of Public Health Medicine, where she served on the College’s Council and held the position of Chief Examiner for many years. At the time of her death, she was a current member of the College Policy Committee and was actively engaged in the College’s policy and advocacy work.

Perhaps for us, though, Fran will be remembered as a stalwart of the Public Health Association, actively involved with us for thirty years. She served two terms as a member of our Executive Council and two terms as President. She worked with Council and the Māori Caucus to create the PHA’s first Māori governance roles. She was an active branch member of both Canterbury/West Coast branch when she resided there, and then Wellington branch. At this local level she stepped into leadership as treasurer, as conference convenor or as chair, whatever and whenever the branch called on her. As chair she led Wellington branch in establishing the first Post-Budget Breakfast, which has become an annual and popular feature of the public health calendar in Wellington, and led to a valuable stakeholder partnership between the PHA and the Child Poverty Action Group. It was for all these contributions and the way she advised and supported so many members personally, that we voted for Wellington Branch’s remit this year, to grant Fran her lifetime membership.

We celebrate her commitment, loyalty and generosity of spirit to public health matters and to our organisation.

We extend our condolences to Fran’s husband Edwin and family.

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Letter to the Listener 28 July 2017 in response to Fever Pitch (Listener 21 July 2017)

Catherine Woulfe’s thorough investigation of rheumatic fever brings to the surface a range of important questions not only about this cruel disease, but also wider issues about health policy. The Government’s bold initiative to reduce the incidence of rheumatic fever as one of its 'Better Public Service' targets in 2012 certainly raised awareness of rheumatic fever for the general public as well as communities and families directly affected. But even when medical science and the public have a clearer understanding of the immediate causes of rheumatic fever, interventions like the $65m ‘sore throats matter’ still won’t stop the epidemic. 

Ramona Tiatia’s blunt description of the experience of affected families not only painted a picture of the impact on affected families and communities, it also highlighted the invidious choices our health funders face.  How much should we prioritise health spending between response to the urgent need of young people whose lives and potential can be devastated by the disease versus the expense of addressing the economic and social factors that underlie the reasons we have this epidemic at all?   

As several of the clinicians interviewed pointed out, it’s only when the poverty and over-crowded housing issues are addressed that we will make a real difference.

Rheumatic fever illustrates the contradictions in our health system identified in the recent American Commonwealth Fund report. Of the 11 countries the Fund monitors, the work our health professionals do is ranked among the highest. But our overall performance as a health system falls to the middle ranking because of our poor performance on access and equity. The Fund also notes that our per capita expenditure is among the cheapest. 

Failure to invest in real prevention - that is, poverty, housing, good nutrition etc. - will continue to drive conditions like rheumatic fever, whether the immediate cause is strep throat or skin sores, until we invest upstream.

Why not spend more on these conditions - the economic and social determinants of health? 

We all pay in the long run - the young people whose misery we tolerate and whose potential remains unfulfilled, the families whose sacrifices are unrewarded, and the taxpayer who picks up the tab.

Ngā mihi,
Warren Lindberg

CE Public Health Association of New Zealand

                                            

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