11 Nov 2021

Whānau Ora back in court over Māori vaccination data from Health Ministry

7:56 pm on 11 November 2021

The Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency (WOCA) is going back to court to again try and get the data from the Ministry of Health of unvaccinated Māori.

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Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The agency has had its request for the information - to create a better rollout for Māori - rejected by the ministry for privacy reasons.

The latest rejection followed a High Court ruling that the ministry must reconsider its refusal to release the data taking into account its Te Tiriti o Waitangi obligations.

In a letter to the agency last week, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the ministry's view was that if they released that breadth of data, it would not be effective in other areas, due to variations in WOCA coverage. He also said he had had discussions with other Māori leaders and iwi about the decision.

Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield hold the 1pm Covid Update in the Beehive Theatrette.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Photo: Pool / Stuff / Robert Kitchin

This was disputed by the agency that had deployed teams to Northland to assist with the vaccination rollout. They said, however, without the data it was akin to finding a needle in a haystack.

On Monday WOCA dispatched a team of four mobile clinics, staffed by 74 trained WOCA kaimahi to support Te Tai Tokerau with the low number of Māori vaccinations in Northland.

Days after Bloomfield's decision, Northland reported more Covid-19 cases in Kaitaia and whānau also being hospitalised.

WOCA said Bloomfield told them handing over that data would breach privacy - even though the ministry gives similar data information to non-government third parties without whānau consent.

He further implied allowing WOCA the Māori data was not tikanga based.

Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency chair Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said Bloomfield's ill-advised decision was unhelpful and was going against getting more Māori vaccinated.

"Our team in Northland are up against the odds and racing against time. WOCA, through our 88 North Island providers, work together to get our people vaccinated and keep them safe," she said.

Health Ministry accused of putting up 'ridiculous barriers'

"We're always handling data," Raukawa-Tait told Checkpoint.

"We don't throw it all around for everybody to see. We've been in business for many years now. So perhaps [Dr Bloomfield] is just saying we cannot be trusted. And if he's saying that, then maybe he needs to tell us that and why he believes so.

"I believe that there are some people in Wellington that do like to retain the power and control over the services that go to Māori. They also want to pick and choose who's going to deliver those services.

"We're far more effective than any DHB in terms of what we provide - the Māori health providers.

"We don't want to have an argument. We very much respect the work that Dr Bloomfield has done over many, many months in carrying the weight of concern for all New Zealanders. We want to support him to do that work.

"Our expectation from him is he will help and support us, not put up ridiculous barriers."

As Aucklanders are expected to be travelling around Aotearoa in December, Raukawa-Tait said she believed it was a life and death situation for many Māori.

"We are very concerned. I cannot tell you how gravely we are viewing the situation. We know we're coming up to summer, Christmas time, people want to be with families, we fully appreciate that. So we are really hard up against a tight timeframe."

Legal papers appealing Bloomfield's order to not release the data will be filed in the High Court in Wellington.

Yesterday the Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson said the Director-General of Health had made his view very clear about giving Whānau Ora access to individual Māori vaccination data and was not changing it.

Jackson was disappointed and disagreed with the ministry's actions; he also had a discussion with Bloomfield today but was unable to change his mind.

He said it was an emergency situation and the agency should be given the information.

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