John Tamihere calls for new policy to tackle racism in health sector

By Jessica Tyson

Waipareira Trust chief executive John Tamihere is calling for a Māori descent population policy to tackle racism as part of the new Māori Health Authority announced today.

The authority will have the power to commission health services, monitor the state of Māori health and develop policy.

Tamihere, who is also a former Labour cabinet minister and former Māori Party co-leader, says, “If the funding follows a Māori descent population policy, we won’t fight over anything because it comes as it should on a per capita basis, which is every Māori is equal, every Māori counts.

“As long as we’re treated equally, as long as the distribution of funding comes out equally within our hoods and we get eyeline sight on who is getting it for what and are they working for us, well we have a totally different health proposition.”

He says there are deep issues of racism, equality and equity of service across the New Zealand health sector. 

“You see [Māori] arriving at Rotorua Hospital, Whakatane Hospital, in deep, deep difficulty and you know why. The primary health care system has not looked after them the same as it has as other people going to the same clinic.”

Controlling the money

He says the new Māori health authority needs to have budgetary control.

“The problem is at the moment money is voted to Māori from the Treasury. By the time it hits our street we’re walking into the GP and paying money. Someone has spent it all the way across the line, so we have to change that. We have to move money to follow the Māori patient, not to follow the doctor, the practice, the hospital or the bureaucrat who runs the system.”

He says the authority needs to encompass the complexity of Māori society from iwi rural-based all the way through to urban-based large communities such as Hoani Waititi, Te Whānau a Waipereira and other Māori healthcare providers in Papakura, Pukekohe and Manurewa.

Tamihere calls it a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” but asks why the details of the changes are yet to come

“I suspect that any change to the health system is going to be beneficial for us because up and down the country we’re pretty able but have been locked out of the conversation for several decades," he says.

“We’ve got a new wave, a new generation of talent coming through in a whole range of industries, health being one so we just have to be at the table.”