Calls for 'standalone Māori heath authority' as DHB model labelled 'not fit for purpose'

The Māori Council has slammed the Government 18 months into its term for what it regards as its failure to address problems within the health sector, including the District Health Boards (DHBs), calling the model "not fit for purpose".

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The council’s executive director, Matthew Tukaki, joined Breakfast to discuss why the current DHB model is “not fit for purpose”. Source: Breakfast

"I think we're 18 months into what is now not a new Government anymore, and when we have a look at the health system, predominantly, nothing much has changed," Māori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki said on TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning.

"We've got 20 District Health Boards around the country for what is a very small population, and we're not yet having a conversation about reform and, quite frankly, getting rid of that model.

Mr Tukaki went on to say: "When we have a look at what that means and the brave decisions the Government needs to make, I think the New Zealand public - Māori in particular - are ready for that conversation."

However, Mr Tukaki said the DHBs weren't the Māori Council's only concern, adding that the Ministry of Health was "recalcitrant" in addressing Kiwis' needs.

"We've had a recalcitrant Ministry of Health now for some time, and so many people have been in there to talk about many things, and the Ministry of Health pushes back and say, you know, 'We're going to engage more with Māori,' but I'd love to know where that engagement actually is.

"When we have a look at the mental health inquiry, when we have a look at suicide prevention, when we have a look at people coming up with these incredibly hurtful and derogatory ways of de-funding the disability services sector by having people shower less and carers care less to save the $100 million on the bottom line is incredible."

Mr Tuakaki says the DHB model isn't "fit for purpose".

"It isn't about the Government necessarily - it's about the institutions that support Government policy, so the DHB model is certainly not fit for purpose and who, in anyone's country of four-and-a-half-million people, has 20 of these things costing $66 million just for executive wages? It's incredible."

Mr Tukaki also expressed concern that the Government failed to establish a mental health commission and "put the Mental Health Commissioner to work to coordinate the sector, to better inform services and connect services together" one month after they were elected.

"One month after they were elected, they should have established a mental health commission, and put the Mental Health Commissioner to work to coordinate the sector, to better inform services and connect services together, to better inform Government about what needed to be done in terms of building bridges towards the community, which is where all that is actually happening, but it's more than that- it's actually Pharmac as well. We've seen the [Wiki] Mulholland story about the life-saving, life-extending medications; we've seen the story about the weight of pressure on carers in the disabilities sector; there's aged care - there's more."

Another concern was the pay parity between "Māori nurses in the system, and non-Māori nurses", adding that Māori nurses are "sometimes paid up to 25 per cent less."

"If it was just one thing, we could manage, but we're not talking about one thing - we're talking about all things, and I think the Government needs to be bold and brave."

He said while the Māori Council has been "continuously coming up with new and creative ideas" to make changes to the current health system, it wasn't enough, with Mr Tukaki calling for a "standalone, Māori health funding authority." 

"We're continuously coming up with new and creative ideas, but it's one thing for us to say, 'We have a plan, we know what needs to be done, our people know what needs to be done,' and it's another thing for the Ministry of Health to actively engage with us to get that plan in place.

"It's time we had a standalone, Māori health funding authority. We just want our own bus. We don't need to be on anyone else's bus, we're going to address the huge health disparities between Māori and non-Māori. We need to be driving that bus to a destination that's fit for purpose to Māori people."

Speaking to TVNZ1's Breakfast today, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said he disagreed with Mr Tukaki's claims and said the upcoming Budget will focus on health.