Ed note: Issue 49 of The NZ Journal of Natural Medicine features an introductory article about an organisation that is relatively new to NZ (and Australia) called the “People’s Health Alliance” (or PHA). The websites for NZ and Australia are https://the-pha.nz/ and https://www.pha-australia.org/.

Below is an interview with the co-founder of the NZ PHA, Rachel Shields. It is based on a transcript of an the interview from early 2023. If you would like to view the full interview from which this text is excerpted here is the link: https://rumble.com/v27wrmm-natalie-cutler-welsh-interviewing-rachel-shields-pha-nz.html 

Interview with Rachel Shields – Co-Founder of the People’s Health Alliance NZ 

The “People’s Health Alliance”  movement began in the UK and has since spread to more than 30 countries including NZ and Australia.  In early 2023, the co-founder of the NZ People’s Health Alliance (PHA), Rachel Shields, was interviewed by Natalie Cutler Welsh about the PHA in NZ.  The text below is excerpted from a transcript of the interview.

Natalie – Good to see you. … So, if you could just give us the over view.  What is the PHA? What is the vision?

Rachel – the PHA is basically giving people more choice, we’re trying to bring the health back to the community.  We are providing services for the people giving people more choice.  It’s run by the people for the people.  It’s a community driven initiative so it’s completely decentralised and that’s the main aim.  The main aim is to get the PHA in every community and it started in England and it’s already in 32 countries.  

Natalie – Amazing, so it’s moving at a very, very fast pace.

Rachel –  I will talk about the Health Hubs first. The Health Hubs themselves are about the communities that come together and whoever is in that community, whichever alternative practitioners, even GPs and nurses who want to leave the health system and come on board, that’s what a Health Hub is going to be. It will be whatever and whoever is in each community, so that is going to be organic process and each community is going to be different. Whoever is there and it’s whatever the people want because the people are going to help to bring this together.

Natalie – OK so I love it so much because it is needed, sadly it is needed there is a transformation in the health system happening in the moment that a lot of people are aware of and a lot of people are completely oblivious to. .. what I’m loving is these things pop up in the modalities that have been around for so so many years but I think personally they’ve been quashed and squashed and pushed off to the side.

Rachel – Completely.

Natalie – So seeing them in their rightful place, reflexologists and naturopaths and acupuncturists coming together and people are really starting to seek them out, is that what you’re seeing?

Rachel – Yes, yeah definitely.  It’s your alternative therapists and allopathic coming together and that’s what it should have always been.  It’s been allopathic as mainstream because it’s the pharmaceutical companies who fund the universities so they have a certain fixed way of treating people and even doctors and nurses are coming to us are saying we’ve feel a certain chunk of our training around other therapies available is missing and we need those gaps filled because we’re realising that the pharmaceutical way is not always the best way, especially in the current climate. So they’re kind of taking a step back and going ok we can use our experience but we need to know how these alternative therapies work and what is available, which means we can do that, we can help to fill those gaps for them. There’s already a training process underway for next year to help doctors and nurses to understand how an integrated approach can benefit many people but this is going to be a level playing field. You’re not going to have your doctors up here and your alternative practitioners down here, it’s going to be equal.  Doctors need to understand how the alternative therapies are helping people and to guide those patients who prefer to see a doctor.  The hubs will be more alternative to start with as we build, then more doctors and nurses will come on board.

Natalie – And what a pivotal time for doctors and nurses to be open to that learning and ready to receive information to fill that gap as you said.  That is amazing.

Rachel – Yeah, and we need to support them because the current system is just not going to be there in the same capacity, it’s going to change and operating through a PHA is going to look different because it won’t be earning a wage like they have been used to, it will be people paying for individual sessions. We need to start something because when this system starts to fail, we need to have something in place, and that’s what the PHA is about, it’s back to the communities, it’s having something in place that the community can trust and that in itself is massive.  If you see one system failing but you see this other thing coming up, that’s security, that’s mental stability knowing that there is something there, that you have these alternative options and that you can try them. We’re trying to run it so that if the community helps to support the hub, the costs and expenses incurred if someone goes for a treatment will be lower.  We’re trying to keep those treatments lower so that they are affordable.  That’s what is key too.  

We’ve also got a social pot, which means that any profits, so it’s a non profit organisation, but any profits that are made go into a pot so that if anybody needs treatments and can’t afford the treatment, they can have a treatment and the practitioners still get paid and provide for people. In the UK what they found is that 85% of people that have a treatment for free either come back and pay for it when they have the money because they realise what a good system it is and they want to give back, or they send paying customers back to their local hubs so it’s well supported.

Natalie – I was going to ask you about that, I love it because the accessibility is key, meaning making it accessible financially while still honouring the wisdom and expertise of the people delivering the care so I love that and also accessibility geographically wise so people don’t have to travel three hours to go to a place, there is actually one in their local area.

Rachel – Exactly, yeah and as the hubs build the idea is that there will be so many of them that you will then know your local hub.So if one hub hasn’t got what you are after, they will know what’s in the next hub area. You know they are kind of run separately but are all connected.  We’re encouraging people to join forces and to merge and communicate, so this is going to be a huge way of moving forward. …

Rachel – They [pre-exisitng health centres] for sure can join forces and that’s what’s wonderful about the PHA, we’re doing this but it’s not new.

Centres that are already up and running can affiliate with the PHA for sure.  

Natalie – Yes, I love that, that’s so good.

Rachel – Actually just touching on the mental health aspect, because that is key, we’ve just had a big international meeting about the plans for the coming year. Mental health support is very much needed for our younger people, with the lockdowns and with the education system, we’re seeing a lot of kids coming out of school with some serious issues.  So we’re working on mental health for younger people … we’re really trying to get together funding so they can have community hubs for our younger people in every community where you will have people to support them, so if anyone’s got any problems and wants to talk to somebody, you don’t have to wait for months, you don’t have to wait for them to be suicidal and attempting to take their own life, you’ve got someone there. There’ll also be classes and workshops to help them to tap into their heart, their soul, to encourage them to be the people that they are inside. It’s about teaching them to be confident and to trust what’s there and to also work with groups of elders so that they’ve got connections through the generations, other than the young people that they know, it’s all about learning from those that have gone before us and using that wisdom from the elders who can share that with the young people.

Natalie – Well it’s so needed the youth and the mental health has been an issue for many, many years but particularly now and the waitlists are ridiculous like dangerously so … (The relevant document that the UK PHA developed as a blue print for youth health is here:  https://the-pha.org/youth-hub-blueprint/ – Ed)

Rachel – Yeah, yeah and there are so many resources as well, so much to learn and that’s what I love about the PHA, not only have you got resources, presentations and all of these zooms which you can sign up and jump on, the practitioners are learning and exploring about what else is out there, our young people can as well, anyone that is part of a hub, can just go to these resources and learn more.  There’s also Anam Cara which is free drop in zoom for anyone struggling, we’ve got three sessions in New Zealand, but we’ve got many in the UK and Kiwis can access the UK drop in zooms, it’s for an hour with trained mental health practitioners on the call, so if you need help urgently you can hop in because sometimes when you are feeling like life is overwhelming you can’t think clearly, so to be able to just drop in, talk to somebody, get some guidance, be directed to a local hub, local practitioners, or organise a one on one. There’s so much happening.

Natalie – Can you give us an example of, I know they’re popping up all around New Zealand, can you give us an example of one (local Health Hub) that is kind of more established than the others and how that’s working?

Rachel – Bay of Plenty opened their doors in November last year, they’ve got a great team together and fortunate that someone offered them four  rooms in the downstairs of a house for a really affordable rate so they’re off to a great start. West Auckland have a pop up hub once a week for 4 hours where the practitioners donate their time to treat all those affected by the flooding from the cyclone. The communities in Karekare, Piha, Muriwai and Bethells are still dealing with clean up, repairing roads, red sticker homes etc and the ongoing stress of dealing with councils and insurance companies. The idea of the pop up hub is that we can support them physically and mentally through this by nurturing them and helping to keep them well so they have the energy for the long haul. Other locals are invited to come in for treatments and give a koha to support the running of the hub so we can provide this for longer without being out of pocket.

Natalie – How can we people like me and the people listening, how can we help, if we know someone who has a property, or wants to help maybe they’re not a practitioner but they love the concept, how can we help?

Rachel – …This is learning from England so there are so many people in England that want this to happen, so if you’re a practitioner or someone who wants to access or create a hub in your community, jump on the website www.the-pha.nz and after you’ve read more about us go to the Hub page. click on the links to the main two Telegram groups at the top and join. You would have to download the telegram app (this app has to be downloaded into a smart phone but once you have a Telegram account you can use Telegram on a computer – Ed.) if you don’t already have it which is a pain for some people but there’s so much amazing info that we share that you won’t regret it. Introduce yourself so we know what you do and where you are and this helps others in your area connect with you.

… If you have spaces and properties and you want to donate or lease them to help get things going in your area then please email us via the contact page on the website (https://the-pha.nz/support-us/) or find your local hub from the hub list (https://the-pha.nz/findhub/).

In England when this first started, they put together a fundraiser introducing the PHA and raising funds to cover the rent for 1 room for 6 months to make a start. Within three weeks of this fundraiser going out, they had 24,000 emails from people that had spaces all over the UK, practitioners wanting to be a part of it, community who wanted to create a health hub, and people who wanted to donate because they strongly aligned with the idea, could see the potential and felt it was important to support. There is no funding available to us unless we raise it ourselves and everyone working hard to build this in NZ are donating their time. We are trying to establish this quick smart to strengthen communities, empower communities to make them feel good and safe about setting up a hub.  If you can bring health and support back to a local community there is strength in that, it is gold.

So as groups build they need a location, they also need people who can market their local hub and spread the word to others in the community, someone who can manage the telegram chat and to organise fundraising events which we encourage to be fun and another excuse to bring the community together.

The other thing to mention is that the PHA has already got the PFFA, the People’s Food and Farming Alliance (https://the-pffa.org/), and that’s expanding and they’ve got farmers around the world jumping on board, you’ve got the Dutch farmers, the Canadian farmers, the English farmers, the Aussies, the Kiwis are coming on board. You know you’ve got all these farmers coming together and actually saying to the governments that enough is enough. The government are trying to implement all these changes, that are really not working, so again we can bring that in alongside the health hubs to connect communities to local growers. The NZ People’s Food and Farming Alliance (PFFA) website is close to being ready to launch. We’re already looking at the changes we would like to see in the education system too. So once you’ve got your food, your health, your mental health, your education, it’s empowering communities again. You’re giving them options and choices that have been taken away over the years.

Rachel – Yes, we usually encourage people to go to the web site at www.the-pha.nz as there’s some really key interviews by Katherine McBean who spearheaded this in England interviewed by Pam Gregory (at this link: https://the-pha.nz/videos/new-earth-with-katherine-macbean/ Ed) and it’s just a brilliant interview because it just sums it up beautifully.

Additional information

ED NOTE: Difficulties with accessing care from a GP are an increasing in NZ and with the average age of a GP in NZ is 53 – and around half of NZGPs plan to retire in the next 10 years. There is an urgent need for better access to primary healthcare in many parts of NZ and local Health Hubs could play a key role in providing genuinely health-promoting care. If you would like to see natural therapies more available in your part of the country, please think about what you may be able to do to support a Health Hub in your area.

If you would like to view the full interview from which this text is excerpted here is the link: https://rumble.com/v27wrmm-natalie-cutler-welsh-interviewing-rachel-shields-pha-nz.html  The interviewer, Natalie Cutler Welsh also has a show called “Up Your Brave” on RealityCheck.Radio

Website for PHA NZ: https://the-pha.nz/

Website for PHA Australia:  https://www.pha-australia.org/

Rumble video channel for PHA NZ – which also includes content from Australia:  https://rumble.com/user/PHANZ

About The NZ Journal of Natural Medicine:

The NZ Journal of Natural Medicine is a quarterly print magazine that covers a range of natural health related topics as well as including information about treatments and/or environmental toxins that may be hazardous to your health. Our online shop where you may subscribe (If you are in NZ or Australia), or buy PDFs is: https://naturalmedicine.net.nz/shop/