Barry Soper: Māori Health Authority not the right way to get a level playing field

Author
Barry Soper,
Publish Date
Thu, 22 Apr 2021, 6:00AM
Health Minister Andrew Little, flanked by Associate Health Ministers, from left, Aupito William Sio, Peeni Henare and Dr Ayesha Verrall. (Photo / NZ Herald)
Health Minister Andrew Little, flanked by Associate Health Ministers, from left, Aupito William Sio, Peeni Henare and Dr Ayesha Verrall. (Photo / NZ Herald)

Barry Soper: Māori Health Authority not the right way to get a level playing field

Author
Barry Soper,
Publish Date
Thu, 22 Apr 2021, 6:00AM

If a government – it won't be this one – can say in 20 years Māori are on a level playing field when it comes to health outcomes, then you couldn't argue with what the Labour Government's planning to do with its health reforms.

But it'll take a lot more than a dedicated Māori Health Authority, with veto powers over decisions being made on behalf of the rest of us, through Health New Zealand to achieve that.

The District Health Boards were established with the best of intentions in 2000, aimed among many other things, at improving outcomes for Maori health with decisions being made by elected locals for locals.

But it hasn't happened, and the 20 boards have become little more than a debt ridden, bloated bureaucracy, headed by overpaid bosses who are collectively sucking around $10 million out of the system with their salaries over the past year.

Taking the DHBs apart and making the system more streamlined will certainly free up mega millions of taxpayers' dollars to be spent where it should be spent – on those who are suffering ill health.

The associate Health Minister Peeni Henare told us many Māori don't like going to the doctor because of their experiences, reinforced by their parents' and grandparents' experiences of the health system which he says has been negative. That's why Henare says the Maori health system must be reformed.

The cost of going to the doctor for them has also been raised.

But all of the aforementioned could be applied to many sectors of the general population, and in particular to the growing numbers who are struggling to make ends meet.

It's true Māori are sadly over-represented in the negative statistics, generally dying earlier than others, in reality not helped by their higher rates of obesity and smoking.  

It's doubtful though whether a dedicated, bureaucratic Māori Health Authority will rectify that. That's the sort of thing that Whanau Ora was set up for by the Key Government at the insistence of his coalition partner, the Māori Party's Tariana Turia, to give Māori more control over their own lives.

But the new authority, Health Minister Andrew Little tells us, will work in tandem with Health New Zealand to fund and run the overall system and will have the power of veto over decisions being made for the rest of us.

So how will it all work? Well, like a lot of things this Government proposes, we'll have to wait and see. It's yet to be designed by Māori.