Honoured doctor: 'In an ideal world you wouldn't need me'

Niall Patrick Kelly
Niall Patrick Kelly

A paediatrician who for the past quarter-century has done all he can to help child abuse victims, has had his efforts recognised in today's Queen's Birthday Honours.

Niall Patrick Kelly has been made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

He has spent much of his career heading Starship's child protection team, and considers the honour to be all of them.

"I'm proud of this team and the work we've done in the past 20 years, and it's nice to have that acknowledged," he told Newshub.

"You're seeing children and young people; they've been through hard times and you're hoping you can contribute to making those times better. I actually enjoy doing something that I think's helping to change the life of that one individual. If you try to look at the whole scope of the problem society-wide, you just get overwhelmed. But if you just take one child at a time, you can change it."

But he'd rather his team wasn't needed at all.

"In an ideal world you wouldn't need a doctor like me. But I haven't seen that change and I don't expect it to."

Despite increasing awareness of how widespread child abuse in New Zealand really is, Dr Kelly says "fundamental issues" about the breakdown of Kiwi society are being ignored.

"Whether it's been a result of the partial dismantling of the welfare state, increasing inequality, increasing poverty, the country is awash in cheap alcohol. There's a big problem with widespread family violence. Until we tackle them, I don' think the problem's going to change."

Now 58, Dr Kelly is turning his focus towards training the next generation of paediatricians.

"I don't think there's another 20 years in me to be honest, and I'd be disappointed if there was. The country needs a whole lot more people doing this kind of work," he says.

"My priority in the next 10 years is workforce development. What I want to be doing is training health professionals to do this better, to feel confident to do it."