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John MacDonald: Surgery ethnicity tick box sounds great, but...

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Mon, 19 Jun 2023, 12:20PM
Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

John MacDonald: Surgery ethnicity tick box sounds great, but...

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Mon, 19 Jun 2023, 12:20PM

I’m going to be totally honest and upfront with you about this policy in Auckland where surgeons have been told they need to give Maori and Pacific patients higher priority for treatment.

I’m always honest but, on this one, I’m going to tell you how I feel about it - but also admit that I’d probably think differently if it was me or someone close to me affected by a policy like this.

On paper, I think it’s a great thing. Because, as we know, there’s a huge gap when it comes to the health of Maori and Pacific people, compared to everybody else.

There’s that stat that came through last year when we were talking about COVID that really stuck with me. Which is the health of a 45-year-old Maori person potentially being the same as a 65-year-old non-Maori person.

And, when you dig into that, you find that that’s put down to the fact that —despite what we might think— non-Maori people get a better deal from the health system.

Which, I know, is down to a whole lot of factors. It’s not necessarily saying that the door has been closed to Maori and Pacific people when it comes to health. Because there are other factors such as higher smoking rates in the Maori population. Those sorts of things.

And, if you really want to go back, there’s the view isn’t there that Maori have been on the backfoot pretty much since the days of colonisation. And that the health system is way out of touch with Maori culture.

Which is why the new Maori Health Authority was established. It wasn’t set-up to provide a separate health system. It was set-up to ensure the health system we have better serves the Maori population. By tuning into the culture and trying to make Maori feel less excluded.

But, whatever the reasons for it —and there are many— but the fact remains that Maori and Pacific people —generally— are in poorer health than the rest of us.

And that’s what this policy —that’s started in Auckland but is also going to be applied elsewhere— is all about.

Better access to surgical treatment for Maori and Pacific people. And, on paper, it sounds brilliant.

But here’s where I have to be honest with you.

Even though I can see the merits of this approach. And I can actually understand why they’re doing it, because, if you look at the stats, something’s not working.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it? We can all look at the stats and listen to the justification for this approach but –unless you are Maori of Pasifika– there’s going to come a point where you (as a non-Maori person, or a non-Pacific person)...there’s going to come a point where this policy may impact you personally.

And that’s where my support for it comes unstuck.

Because I can tell you now, that if I needed surgery or someone close to me needed surgery and I was told it wasn’t happening or wouldn’t be happening for a while because of my ethnicity –then I tell you what, and I’ll be honest– I would be really brassed off.

Just like if I was Maori or Pasifika and felt that the system over the years had well-and-truly let me down - I’d be brassed off too. Because it has. There’s no denying that. Maori and Pacific people have had a raw deal.

But, however willing I am to acknowledge that - I have to be honest. I have to look at it as the person I am. I am not Maori. I am not a Pacific person.

And I’m not going to lie. If I was unwell enough to need surgery, then I wouldn’t want anything else other than my medical condition to determine how soon I got treatment.

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