A Groundbreaking Career | Te Whatu Ora - Te Tai Tokerau

A Groundbreaking Career

It is not until you delve into the career of Dr Winfield Bennett that you realise how often this humble man has been at the helm of some of New Zealand's most important health organisations and medical programmes. 

The young Win Bennett left his hometown of Christchurch in 1965 to study medicine at Otago University and graduated 50 years ago this month earning a Bachelor of Medical Science along the way.

He chose Auckland for his final year at Medical School because he had never been there, and the following year moved north with a group of friends from the class to work as house surgeons at Whangārei Base Hospital.

Among this group was Dr John Karalus (Kobi) who shared with Win the inaugural role of medical registrar at the Hospital.

The pair eventually went into general practice in Kamo and later joined with Dr Loek Henneveld and the three of them set up practice in Station Road. Win continued to work for 20 years in the practice and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  

“The privilege of general practice is getting to know patients really well and building trust over time. In those days there were few formal training opportunities and we were dependent on colleagues for support and to develop the art and skills we needed.”   

During this time, Win married Wendy and together they raised five children.

Win and Wendy decided they needed a change and moved to Wellington where Win became the first Medical Director of PHARMAC during that organisation's formative years.  

“It was an exciting and groundbreaking time setting up the new institution and developing new policy and operating procedures.

“Some highlights were winning multiple legal challenges which included a case argued in the Privy Council in London and surviving an intense publicity campaign, called ‘Mayday’, driven by the pharmaceutical industry.”

Win also met two of his biggest influences while working at PHARMAC. The organisation's first general manager David Moore, an economist who taught him how economists think and what they had to offer in improving health.

The other key influence was respected Māori health and education leader Rob Cooper (Ngāti Hine), who Win said persuaded PHARMAC to do better things for Māori and was also a significant influence on the Health Funding Authority (HFA), where Win moved to after PHARMAC. The HFA was a national organisation that replaced the four Regional Health Authorities. At that time the Ministry of Health (MOH) was in charge of policy, and the HFA looked after all the funding.

"That was a senior operational job and the HFA was a wonderful place to work and had great leadership.”  

Unfortunately, the Authority only lasted a couple of years before being dissolved when health funding moved back to the MOH.

Win said it is funny how things go around in circles because he sees the HFA format being played out again in the new health reforms.   

After HFA, Win took on the role of Director of Funding and Planning at Capital and Coast District Health Board and remained there for four years before relocating to Hawkes Bay District Health Board to be Director of Planning, Funding and Performance.

Both roles were interesting yet challenging, and provided opportunities to improve primary care delivery, especially to high need populations. 

During this period Win chaired the Committee that developed the then, new Primary Health Care Strategy (PHCS). Win also chaired for several years the Primary Health Organisation Service Agreement Amendment Protocol (PSAAP) Committee which negotiated the development of the PHCS with general practice.

With retirement on the horizon, in 2009 Win and Wendy decided to move closer to two of their five children living in Whangārei. Win took over from Dr Loek Henneveld as academic coordinator for the newly created Pūkawakawa Programme.

The pioneering Programme was a partnership between the University of Auckland's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Northland District Health Board (Northland DHB). It began in 2008, offering 20 (this later increased to 24) year five medical students the opportunity to gain experience in regional and rural health. 

During their year in Northland, each student worked with different specialities in Whangārei Hospital. Win said for most students the high point is seven weeks spent in a rural environment (one of Dargaville, Kaitaia, Bay of Islands or Rawene Hospital) experiencing rural general practice, rural hospital care and community health.

"I had always been interested in student education, and this looked like a good opportunity that fitted with our retirement plans.  

"When I took over as Academic Coordinator, the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland and Northland DHB had already done an excellent job of setting it all up and all the hard work had been done."

Win worked part-time in this role and part-time as GP advisor for the Northland DHB with Dr Diane Davis.

After six years, he decided to reduce his workload to two and a half days a week, which he said didn't always work out because these roles don't have boundaries. However, he said Pūkawakawa continued to be an exciting journey and great fun.  

"The programme has had outstanding leadership from Professors' Warwick Bagg, Phillippa Poole and Alan Merry. They have to take a lot of the credit, as well as all the teachers in Whangārei Hospital and rural areas who do a great job."

After five years, we took on the trainee Intern cohort, which has been built up to include 20 interns per year. There are now up to 45 students a year involved in the two Programmes.

"The students are a great source of inspiration and are becoming more diverse and better reflective of the population. We are going to have some great young doctors in the near future, which is exciting. 

“They will all be excellent doctors with excellent training, compared to when I started - it would be great to go back and start again. 

"We're starting to see more students from the North go to medical school and return to work here – all of which is very rewarding. The Programme is good for Northland, Northland DHB, the University, Medical School, and the students who give us lots of hope for the future, despite all the issues in health."

Win said another exciting element of Pūkawakawa is the relationship with Te

Poutokomanawa Māori Health Directorate at Northland DHB.

"This has been very successful, and we are very grateful for the support they have given to the students and the programme."

The Programme's success has led to similar programmes starting in the Bay of Plenty and Taranaki.

In August 2018, Win was appointed by the Minister of Health to the Advisory Panel for the Health and Disability Review.

Win was farewelled in early December and said the event was great fun and very humbling.

He said retiring is a process rather than an event, and he has been moving along the lines for the last ten years or so.

Win and Wendy have just bought a new home with a large garden, so they have plenty to keep them busy. They have a motorhome and will have trips away. They love their multitudes of grandchildren and children and hope to spend some time with them over the Christmas/summer period.

Whangārei GP Dr Aniva Lawrence, a graduate of the Auckland medical programme, will take over from Win as the University of Auckland Academic Coordinator at the Northland Clinical Site.


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