Māori Health Authority 'could be a big step forward for our people', experts say

2:11 pm on 22 April 2021

The government's planned Māori Health Authority will give Māori a greater voice in the health system, a patient says.

Graham King says the creation of a Māori Health Authority could be a big step forward for Māori.

Graham King says the creation of a Māori Health Authority could be a big step forward for Māori. Photo: Supplied

Counties Manukau resident Graham King, who is of Ngāti Tai descent, was diagnosed with diabetes in 1990 and is also a member of Diabetes Foundation Aotearoa.

Many people in Māoridom were reluctant to seek medical help because of negative experiences they, or their whānau, had experienced with the health system - "and a lot of them just can't afford it", he said.

Under the reforms announced on Wednesday, the country's district health boards will be replaced by one national organisation called Health NZ. The new Crown entity will be responsible for running hospitals and commissioning primary and community health services.

A new Māori Health Authority will also be established and will have the power to commission services, monitor the state of Māori health and develop policy.

The Counties Manukau District Health Board currently has responsibility for 574,000 people and has the second-largest Māori population in the country, across south and east Auckland.

The area has widespread health problems, including diabetes and obesity, as well as high levels of socio-economic deprivation.

King said the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency, which provided funding for a number of providers in South Auckland, was an example of what could be done under a by-Māori, for-Māori model.

"Māori for Māori has already proven to be a good thing and I think this could really help. It will give us a voice and I think this could be a big step forward for our people."

He described visiting a dietician shortly after being diagnosed with diabetes. She was condescending and rude, and talked down to him about how to read the labels on cans and what he should and should not eat, he said.

"I said to her that I owned my own business and she could talk to me like a normal person. After that I never got another appointment.

"For our people that unconscious bias happens a lot, but unfortunately you just become accustomed to it."

Creating a new Māori Health Authority would be one way to add a greater Māori perspective to the healthcare system and improve access to services, he said.

Manukau Urban Maori Authority board chairman Bernie O'Donnell

Manukau Urban Māori Authority chairman Bernie O'Donnell says the government's shake-up of the health system is needed after years of failing to deliver for Māori. Photo: Supplied

Manukau Urban Māori Authority chairman Bernie O'Donnell has seen firsthand the failings of the country's district health boards as a member of the Auckland DHB.

Establishing a Māori Health Authority would give Māori greater responsibility for the delivery of their own health services and making sure they met the needs of their communities, he said.

"This is transformative," O'Donnell said.

"Is it a perfect model? I don't know, but it's better than the one we've got at the moment.

"I'm sick of seeing our people at the bottom of the heap. Our people die younger, they are more exposed to diseases and illness. And unfortunately when our people turn up to hospital the damage has already been done.

"We see this as an opportunity."

Counties Manukau DHB was contacted for comment, but referred all media queries to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Turuki Health Care chief executive Te Puea Winiata said there were still a lot of questions around how the Māori Health Authority would operate and how it would be funded.

Removing barriers to primary healthcare was sorely needed in South Auckland, she said.

Creating a Māori Health Authority could be one way to better tailor services to fit the needs of the community.

"We need to get away from the one size fits all approach in the health sector. Currently what the DHBs and the Ministry of Health see as priorities often aren't at a community level."

Not everyone has welcomed the government's reforms. In a statement, National's health spokesman Dr Shane Reti said Māori had greater health needs than the rest of the population.

"National believes whoever has the greatest needs should receive the appropriate resources ... but we do not support a separate Māori Health Authority as it runs the risk of a fragmented two-tier system.

"On one hand Health Minister Andrew Little claims he's trying to create a single, harmonious, joined-up health system and on the other he's creating a two-tiered funding system based on race."

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