Māori health providers excited by Māori Health Authority launch

By Tumamao Harawira

The establishment of the Māori Health Authority was launched with much fanfare yesterday, with Associate Minister for Māori Health Peeni Henare calling it a game-changer.

The authority will work with Māori health providers, iwi, hapū, and Māori communities to understand Māori health needs across New Zealand.

Along with the Māori Health Authority, the new health system (Health NZ) will be a single health service providing health services. One of the main features of the announcement is the dissolution of district health boards across the country.

Hayden Wano from Tuiora, a Māori primary health organisation in Taranaki says it was time to do away with district health boards.

"What's become pretty evident is that the boundaries of district health boards have become their own sort of fiefdoms. They've become their own identity, and I think that's become a challenge in terms of access to our services."

'Genuine partnership'

And Health director-general  Ashley Bloomfield is excited by the announcement.

"It is an exciting time, and I am looking forward to working with the new board. The new health system will be a single health service providing consistent, high-quality health services for all people."

In each locality, partnerships between Iwi-Māori partnership boards, Health NZ commissioners and the wider community will ensure Māori voices are heard, and that health equity for Māori is non-negotiable.

Wano says it's one of the features of the new health system that really resonates with Māori primary health organisations around the country.

"What I'm excited about is that you've got a clear opportunity for a genuine partnership between iwi Māori and the government."

One issue of particular concern is the ability of providers to deal with Covid-19. But Hayden Wano says he has seen an upside in his region with iwi being forced to tackle Covid as one, coherent unit.

"We are eight iwi in Taranaki, all in a post-settlement environment, with willingness and motivation to be influential within our province and the coronavirus has probably accelerated collaboration across iwi,"

Marion Hakaraia of Te Hononga O Tamaki Me Hoturoa in South Auckland is wary of Health NZ overstepping its mark.

"As long as the direction and leadership come from the Māori Health Authority because I think that will be where the rubber hits the road."

But with Māori health inequalities still prevalent, the challenge for the new Māori Health Authority is to increase the participation of Māori in the health system.