Health advocates cautiously optimistic over Government's plan to scrap DHBs

The Government’s major shake-up of New Zealand’s district health board system has health advocates feeling cautiously optimistic about what it could mean for people with disabilities. 

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Huhana Hickey and Matire Harwood say they’re cautiously optimistic about the coming changes to New Zealand's health sector. Source: Q+A

Health NZ, a single national agency, will replace the country’s 20 DHBs as the Government promises a better and more equal standard of care. 

An additional Māori health entity will sit alongside Health NZ. It aims to improve the health policies and funding available for Māori who statistically suffer from worse health.

National remains critical of the changes, with the party’s health spokesperson Shane Reti saying the shift would create a “two-tier” health system. The party, though, agrees that those with the greatest needs should be met with access to the resources required.

Deputy Health Minister Peeni Henare disagreed, stating the new authority “had to be independent” in order to effectively improve the overall health of Māori. 

“What we’ve also made clear is that the independent authority must continue to have leavers and influence across the wider health sector,” he told Q+A. 

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Andrew Little says scrapping DHBs would be crucial to making meaningful change to the health sector. Source: Q+A

“If we do want to turn the dial around on Māori health statistics, we must invest there.” 

Auckland University’s Dr Matire Harwood argues the current systems in place are only hindering Māori. 

“Certainly for Māori, it’s not created a two-tier system. We know the system at the moment isn’t working for us so something needs to change,” she told Q+A’s panel. 

By having a health system that holds a great focus on primary care and community services, it’s likely to be a “huge change” for minority groups, Harwood says. 

Health Minister Andrew Little told Q+A they’re looking closer at how to better cater for disability support services as many of the issues the disabled community face “are not just health issues".

“I think it is about, on the Government side, working out what does the machinery look like to make that actually work.”

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Peeni Henare says the entity will require “significant resources” allocated in the next budget. Source: Q+A

Disability advocate Dr Huhana Hickey agrees, stating that improving primary health care could help those with disabilities receive comprehensive support from early on. 

She’s proposing the Government establish a Rongoā Māori approach by setting up holistic medical clinics in partnership with each hospital. 

“I would like to be able to go in and say, I’ve got a bit of a dicky knee -  I don’t want their steroid cream, I would like a balm; kawakawa please."

By introducing a partnered approach between traditional and contemporary medicine, it would greater cater to both people with disabilities and Māori, Hickey says.