Plunket fights back on claims of racism

By Jessica Tyson

Plunket chief executive Amanda Malu says Plunket is actively working on becoming an anti-racist organisation after being accused of failing to deliver equitable services for Māori and Pacifika babies.

It comes after a report last week found the programme Well Child Tamariki Ora (WCTO), which Plunket is a primary provider for, is failing to meet its obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The report showed that just over 82 percent of non-Māori, non-Pacific peoples receive the first WCTO service or provider contact on time, compared with 75 to 78 percent of Māori, Pacific peoples.

Health expert Dr Rawiri Mckree Jansen says, while there are good people at Plunket, the organisation is broken. However, Malu disagrees and says Plunket is not broken but the health and disability system is.

“We acknowledge our part as a big provider in failing to deliver as well for Māori and Pacific as we do for other whānau. That is the same right across the health and disability sector. We’re not alone in that. Where I think we are alone is that we are stepping up to own our part in it and we are doing something about it and have been for a number of years now.”

Jansen said Plunket's controversial founding by Sir Truby King means racism permeates through the organisation. King was a vocal proponent of the discredited eugenics (racial improvement through selective breeding) movement.

Apology for harm

Malu says she acknowledges some of the problematic aspects of Plunket’s whakapapa including King’s views around eugenics.

“I acknowledge and apologise for the harm those views and, by association, our organisation caused for whānau Māori and I think that’s a very important beginning in any journey towards equity. You have to own your history and we are doing that”

Malu says the contracting and commissioning model that Plunket is subjected to by the Ministry of Health is what constrains its services.

“This is their programme that we deliver and in a lot of ways the time constraints placed on the delivery of services mean that it often appears that we are not seeing Māori babies or Pacific babies when in fact we are.”

According to the report, only 59 to 66 percent of Māori, Pacific peoples and whānau living in high-deprivation areas receive all their core contacts in the first year of life, compared to 75 percent of non-Māori, non-Pacific peoples.

Malu says it takes longer to secure first appointments with whānau because they fall outside the schedule.

“It looks like a failure. In fact, we’re seeing those babies but we’re often seeing them late and that’s what we’re working very consciously to change. It’s a system and programme issue.”

As a result, Plunket is looking at how the organisation can prioritise Māori whānau to make sure that they get those core visits on time in a way that works for them.

“We’re doing a lot of work on addressing things like implicit bias, racism, privilege and we’re working to be an actively anti-racist organisation. We know it’s a long journey and we’re beginning that journey very consciously and we know we’ve got a long way to go.”