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Plunket Line Rings Up 10th Anniversary


10 April 2004


Caption: "It is usually Mum or Dad who makes the call to Plunket Line, but 2 ½ year old Katherine Gould uses her play phone to show Health Minister, Annette King, how easily it is done. In the 10 years since Plunket Line was established, it has handled well over half a million phone calls on everything from crying babies to child car seats to common colds.

Plunket Line, the 24-hour telephone helpline for parents and caregivers, has faced some testing times over the last ten years, but its popularity continues to flourish.

The service is celebrating its 10th anniversary at Easter (subs: 11 April), a milestone thrown into doubt in early 1999 when lack of funds forced the line's closure.

"The public outcry that year, backed up by a 60,000-signature petition organised by Annette King (then Opposition spokesperson for Health) proved that New Zealand families needed, wanted and valued this service," says Jenny Allan, manager of Plunket Line.

"The same continues today as we celebrate our 10th birthday. Thousands of New Zealand parents and caregivers are still picking up the phone and calling when problems arise with their baby or toddler."

In the ten years since Plunket Line was established, it has received more than 600,000 calls, averaging around 5000 to 6000 calls a month, and although an idea ahead of its time, this child healthline has been wholeheartedly supported by New Zealanders.

"New Zealanders were quick to switch on to this type of service but the funding we receive has never kept pace. The demand for Plunket Line over the years has consistently outstripped our ability to answer all calls," says Jenny Allan.

While most callers are first-time parents, experienced parents and caregivers, grandparents and even antenatal clients are increasingly using the service.

"It is clear from the level of support Plunket Line provides all parents, particularly first-time parents, it is seen as a necessity rather than a luxury," says Ms Allan.

This is echoed by Plunket's president, Kaye Crowther, who says the service has managed to beat the odds and prove it has an essential part to play in the lives of New Zealand families.

The single most common issue for first-time callers to Plunket Line is an unsettled, crying baby followed by sleep management problems. Fever, vomiting, breastfeeding and formula feeding issues are other common reasons for calling.

Jenny Allan believes the changing face of the New Zealand family over the last decade is now reflected in the calls the service receives. "Grannies and aunties, or other family members who were always around, aren't always available now to lend a helping hand," she says.

She has noticed a rise in the number of calls relating to domestic violence and abuse, and says many parents now call with a number of concerns regarding the care of their children, rather than just a single issue.

More than half of all calls are resolved by Plunket Line staff, with the remainder referred on to other healthcare providers, usually GPs, and agencies.

Jenny Allan says a recent client survey revealed that 51 percent of callers would have visited their doctor or an after-hours service, had they not been helped by Plunket Line. Nearly 30 percent of callers were referred by Plunket Line to their doctors.

"This level of early support, information and health promotion is a cost-effective way to save taxpayer dollars. The early years are critical to the development of a child and the foundation of a healthy adult life," she says.

Attached: History of Plunket Line

Plunket Line data see

'What others say about Plunket Line' and Plunket Line 'bloopers'


(as at March 2004)

* First started by Plunket on 11 April 1994 as an 'out of hours service' 4pm - 1am, 7 days per week

* Service increases hours to 24 hours per day in October 1994

* Total of 11 FTE staff (including Manager)

* Funding issues prompt a public post card campaign "Don't Let The Hotline Go Cold" championed by Helen Clark

* July 1997 service restructured due to financial constraints, Night shift cut, operating hours 8am - 1am, evening staff reduced from 5 to 3

* December 1997 Plunket announces Plunket Line will close. Staff and the public mount a campaign to 'save the line' - interim funding provided by Tindall Foundation, Sutherland Trust and Karitane Products until further funding could be found. Sponsorship obtained from Telstra through the sale of 'anytime cards'. Plunket Line phone number changes to 0800 933 922 (Telstra)

* Plunket Line closes on 8 February 1999.

* During the above period Plunket Line was fully funded by Plunket, i.e via fund-raising, bequests, sponsorships, grants etc.

* 60,000 New Zealanders sign a petition calling for the reinstatement of Plunket Line.

* Plunket Line reopens on 16 August 1999, operating from 8am to midnight, after the government decides to fund the service for a two-year period.

* 24-hour service reinstated on 1 May 2000.

* Plunket Line's 24-hour service costs approximately $913,000 per annum to operate.

* Staffed by a rostered team of 30 highly experienced Plunket nurses (8.2 FTE). Plunket nurses are registered nurses with a specialist diploma in community child and family health promotion and have community experience.

* Plunket Line, as a 16-hour service, was used by an average of 50,000 caregivers per annum - including mothers, fathers, grandparents, nannies, babysitters, practice nurses etc.

* From 16 August 1999 to 13 August 2000, Plunket Line received 52,213 calls.

* From 1 July 2000 to 30 June 2001, Plunket Line nurses received 65,242 calls which involved 94,609 enquiries about the care of children.

* Plunket Line gets a new look and one million dollars from Pub Charity Inc to fund Plunket Line for one year from 1 October 2001 to 30 September 2002 .

* From 1 July 2001 - 30 June 2002, 62,847 calls

* From 1 July 2002 - 30 June 2003, 64,407 calls


"Plunket Line is a great resource for parents, especially when mum or nana isn't around. When things get tough it provides an important safety net of advice, support and peace of mind."

Katherine Rich MP

"Plunket Line is an amazing service, I used it many times to help out with general new parent panics. I found the women on the other end to be life and sanity savers. They reassured me I was doing the right thing for my babies, and that sort of help can never be underestimated."

Alison Mau, TVNZ 'Breakfast' Presenter

"Plunket Line has been a great help to (my wife) Marilyn and me. It's really good to know that when you need help, it's just a phone call away - especially as new parents needing advice."

Rodney So'oialo, All Black

"How magnificent it is that Plunket Line is there day and night to help parents meet the challenges of nurture and childhood. There is no doubt that our society is enriched by the input of good listeners and helpful suggestions - long may such a service be available to the Mums and Dads and children of our nation."

Roger McClay, former Commissioner for Children

Plunket Line 'Bloopers'!

Huh? A grandmother calls, concerned about her grand daughter's rash - she tells Plunket Line mum is using 'Bournvita' but this is not helping. It is best known as 'Ungvita'!

Long service? A caller asks "Does Plunket keep records of birth weights?" The caller reveals she is over 70 years old and wants to know what her birth weight was. She tells Plunket Line her mother is still alive but can't remember.

Good for you? A caller is worried about a 13-month-old baby being sick after having "blue milk". Plunket Line says giving homogenised milk after one year is normal practice. "Oh no, I mean Primo Bubble Gum-flavoured blue milk!" caller replies.

Dummy or dummy? An unsettled baby sees Plunket Line going through various strategies with a caller. "Has she a dummy?" "No, I threw it out," is the reply. Later, she is asked if she is parenting alone. "Yes, that was the dummy I threw out."

Identity crisis? Caller - "I'm a newborn mother."


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