21 Apr 2020

Government's Māori Covid-19 response all words, no action - response group

4:34 pm on 21 April 2020

The Ministry of Health's Māori Covid-19 response plan, which has taken almost four weeks to be released, has been criticised for its lack of detail.

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A Covid-19 testing station. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

The action plan outlines the Ministry of Health's objectives, the first of which is to achieve mana motuhake through supporting iwi and hapū to respond to the health needs of their community.

It would do this through financial assistance for Māori health providers and providing additional health workers to them.

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It also aims to achieve mana tangata, through targeted information for Māori communities, hygiene and sanitation packs, and eliminating barriers to healthcare by providing payment for prescriptions and health services if needed.

A Māori Touchstone Group would be formed to advise the government on its Covid-19 Māori response, and the ministry would partner with iwi to develop Covid-19 response strategies, and conduct surveillance and monitoring of Māori across district health boards (DHB).

However, Māori National Pandemic response group Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā said there was no detail on how an equitable health system would be delivered.

"It provides high-level and aspirational statements and uses language and words that will resonate with Māori but offers no clear and tangible actions to bring to life the aspirations of the plan," Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā member Dr Rhys Jones said.

"Instead, it devolves almost all responsibility for the provision of Māori healthcare to whānau, hapū and iwi Māori - something that has been taking place already - while not expressing any expectation for mainstream healthcare to do their job in ensuring equitable healthcare for Māori."

"There's often no timeframe or no clear milestones given, no real clear plan about how progress is going to be monitored or how accountability is going to be ensured."

Jones said the plan was very disappointing considering it had been released almost four weeks into the level 4 lockdown.

"That makes it seem like it is an afterthought, rather than a central aspect of the Ministry's plan so what it ends up is mostly retrofitting some of these actions into an existing framework, and attempting to paper over the cracks over what we consider a racist government response."

Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā has set out a number of recommendations to "breathe life" into the ministry's response plan.

These include:

  • Transparency in the distribution of funding and resources such as PPE, flu vaccines and Covid-19 tests
  • The development of appropriate guidance for post-care treatment of Māori individuals with Covid-19 and their whānau
  • A commitment to further resourcing for Māori health providers and iwi to continue to operate throughout the entire pandemic
  • Māori governance and leadership at every level of the COVID-19 response
  • The collection and analysis of high-quality ethnicity data
  • Immediate commencement of real time monitoring of the health and disability system to understand the provision of healthcare and support for all Māori and identify areas that are not providing equitable services.

Dr Jones said it was fundamental that the Ministry and the whole of government response to covid-19 was made treaty-compliant, "and that includes how Māori governance and leadership will be established at every level of the response."

He said there also needs to be greater transparency over the spending of the $30m in funding set aside for Māori healthcare providers.

 John Whaanga

Māori Health deputy director-general John Whaanga Photo: Supplied / Ministry of Health

The ministry's Māori Health deputy director-general John Whaanga said it was only an "initial plan" and the ministry would build on it after further consultation.

He was awaiting feedback from Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā, iwi and the iwi chairs forum on how to strengthen engagement with them.

"I am expecting they will come back to us with areas we need to improve and build on, but I think the most important thing was sending a very clear signal that our responsibilities under Te Tiriti and our responsibilities for Māori health equity are front and centre in our considerations."

Almost $50m in government funding for Māori communities to tackle covid-19 allocated

The associate Minister of Health and Minister for Whanau Ora Peeni Henare said that most of the funding which was announced on 22 March has gone to Whānau Ora ($45m).

That has been used to provide:

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