13 Jun 2017

Rotorua iwi to protest DHB cultural unit cut

9:02 pm on 13 June 2017

A Rotorua iwi is planning a protest march and is demanding an apology after Rotorua Hospital said iwi members were no longer wanted for its cultural ambassador unit.

Rotorua Hospital entrance.

Rotorua Hospital Photo: RNZ / Karen Brown

In 1880, the iwi of Ngāti Whakaue donated the land at Pukeroa Hill for the purposes of a hospital; it was a gift to the people of Rotorua.

And for the last 20 years Ngāti Whakaue and the Lakes District Health Board have recognised their special relationship through the work of a cultural team called Te Hunga Manaaki, which acts as a bridge between clinical staff and Māori patients and their whānau.

Five full-time staff from the cultural team left the hospital last week after their employer, Kāhui Hauora, lost the contract with the DHB.

Lakes DHB chief executive Ron Dunham declined to be interviewed on the issue and instead provided a statement.

Mr Dunham said a new programme would be created within the hospital.

The DHB said it was concerned iwi were unhappy but it had made the decision with the best of intentions, and as part of the DHB's commitment to improving health equity.

Ngāti Whakaue cultural ambassadors leave the hospital to clapping and singing.

Ngāti Whakaue's cultural ambassadors leave the hospital last week to clapping and singing from their supporters. Photo: RNZ/Mihingarangi Forbes

A leading Māori health academic, Te Kani Kingi, said it was unfair to expect the advocacy work of the Māori cultural experts to improve inequalities in Māori and non-Māori health, as that was something none of the country's DHBs had successfully addressed.

Dr Kingi was engaged by the iwi health provider to evaluate the cultural team's performance.

He interviewed more than 50 clinical, non-clinical and service users and he found overwhelming support for the service.

Colin Bennett, the chief executive of Kāhui Hauora, the organisation that has lost the contract, pointed to Mr Kingi's findings and said they spoke for themselves.

He said the relationship between the DHB and his iwi organisation had been very negative and went on to say it was "disempowering, disingenuous and hostile".

Ngāti Whakaue kuia Norma Sturley said 250 iwi members met on Sunday and planned to march to the hospital on the hill they donated 137 years ago.

She said they wanted a national level apology for the way Te Hunga Manaaki had been treated and they were demanding it be reinstated immediately.