Whānau Ora leaders support Māori health authority

By Tumamao Harawira

Whanau Ora Community Clinics founder George Ngātai says the government's key plank in its health strategy, a Māori health authority, is a key aspect of the aspirations of Māoridom in the health sector.

"We've been needing this to fix the Māori disparities across health and across this country, so it's a big win for Māori."

Health Minister Andrew Little outlined plans to implement the Health and Disability Review recommendations published in June last year - and go further. Included in the announcement is the establishment of a Māori health authority to develop strategy and policy and to commission, in an authentic Tiriti o Waitangi partnership with Health NZ, health services for the whole country.

Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency chair Merepeka Raukawa-Tait saysshe is totally supportive of this plan.

"We've had an adequate health service but certainly haven't had one that is doing the best by all people, and so these changes are significant and they are certainly overdue and this is very audacious reform of the health sector."

Health NZ is a new Crown entity that will replace district health boards to commission health services for the whole country. It will be made up of four regional divisions and a range of district offices.

Raukawa-Tait says, "The opportunity that presents itself with that independent health authority is to plan specifically to ensure Māori can gain easy access to services when required, the range of interventions that suit them."

Devil in the detail

Lady Tūreiti Moxon of Te Kōhao Health in Hamilton has long been an advocate for health in Waikato, and she says this has been a long time coming. "It's taken us all this time to get it to this point, and now we have that standalone Māori authority and so I'm very pleased with it. Now, of course, the devil is in the detail and a lot of work has to be done."

She also believes Whānau Ora and the Māori health authority can work together for Māori health incomes. "In terms of the Māori health authority, we are only looking at the medical centres and doctors and primary health and community health."

Ngatai said that the seven years' experience he had on the Counties Manukau District Health Board as an appointed board member gave him the opportunity to see first-hand how bureaucracy managed the health of his people.

Having the opportunity to have an experienced Maori health governance group with the authority to do everything that was required to improve Maori health and engagement was fantastic.  

One aspect he is looking forward to is Māori holding sway over the decisions that the authority makes.

"It's really lonely space being placed in that situation with the district health board. I would think the Māori health authority would be all Māori, and there could actually be token Pākehā around the table."