8 May 2021

Pacific health leaders expect benefits from health overhaul

8:20 am on 8 May 2021

Pacific health leaders expect a radical overhaul of New Zealand's health system to bring benefits for people of Pacific heritage.

The change will mean the 20 district health boards which run services for individual areas around Aotearoa will be replaced by one new body, Health NZ, which will instead plan services for the whole population.

Health NZ will have four regional divisions but also district offices.

There will also be a new Māori Health Authority, sitting alongside that, to both set policies for Māori health and to decide and fund those who will deliver services.

And, on the back of Covid 19, there will be a new Public Health Agency which will target widespread health problems - like smoking - and try to prepare for pandemics and epidemics.

But there's nothing specific outlined for the Pasifika community which makes up more than eight percent of the Aotearoa's population.

John Fiso

John Fiso Photo: supplied

John Fiso is well aware of the epidemic of disease hitting New Zealand's Pacific island communities. He is chair of Pacific Health Plus - a health centre in Porirua - which looks after the health needs of the city's Pacific population.

"It's mainly around diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular and the respiratory diseases. Now they affect the Pacific population therefore there are families and that's where the epidemic is already happening," he said.

John Fiso is expecting the new health body to service the whole country will mean less red tape.

"When you have less bureaucracy you are going to get more resources going directly to the front-line which has been one of the concerns I think for Pacific providers and probably Maori providers that there is not enough of the health dollar going there directly to support those most at risk," Mr Fiso.

Dr Colin Tukuitonga

Dr Colin Tukuitonga Photo: PMA

Pacific health expert Colin Tukuitonga is waiting for more detail but he's concerned there could be more bureaucracy.

"Health New Zealand sounds like a huge huge monster and generally when those things happen they can be a bit sluggish and not responsive. It's a bit to early to be too dogmatic about these things, a change might come a bit down the line," he said.

Dr Tukuitonga who is Associate Dean Pacific at the University of Auckland Medical School said the new Maori health entity is a good development.

"It is encouraging to see the Maori Health Authority is being implemented with co-purchasing and commissioning capability one would hope that there might be some spillover benefits to the Pacific communities given we have similar health concerns."

Dr Tukuitonga said that body will have plenty to deal with, though, in terms of tagata whenua health.

The Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio said Pacific communities' concerns will be woven into the new health system.

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Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Aupito said Pacific communities view the new plan as an opportunity.

"Our focus isn't just about physical health, it's mental health, it's spiritual health, it's cultural health, it's economic health," he said.

Aupito said as far as Pacific people are concerned, the new service will be accountable to him.

John Fiso, of Pacific Health Plus, said such a bold move was necessary and it's encouraging to see the structure will be changed from July next year.