Head of Māori Health Authority Riana Manuel says Māori health has been in 'poor state for decades' but stops short of saying it's in a crisis

The head of the new Māori Health Authority has stopped short of saying Māori health is in a crisis. 

On Friday, the biggest transformation in New Zealand's public health system took place where 20 district health boards were dissolved and replaced by one centralised entity, Health New Zealand. Working alongside it will be the Māori Health Authority.

The upheaval comes as COVID-19 and the winter flu overwhelm an exhausted workforce.

One day into their jobs, the bosses of Health NZ and Māori Health Authority joined Newshub Nation to discuss their vision for their new roles and both said they weren't daunted by the challenge but privileged to be in their roles. 

Māori Health Authority chief executive Riana Manuel stopped short of saying that Māori health is in a crisis but has been in a "poor state for decades". 

"This is a really intentional move now to make sure we deal with that… we have work to do in Māori health and this is the start of that," Manuel told Newshub Nation on Saturday.  

"I think I've made it clear that for decades our people have been in a poor state of health and well-being and I don't tend to focus on the presence of disease, I want to focus on the presence of well-being."     

It comes after Health Minister Andrew Little conceded New Zealand's struggling health system isn't an overnight fix.

Manuel said she is the right person to be leading the Māori Health Authority.

"I come from the community, I've been on the frontline nearly all my working career, I know how to manage spaces, to drive innovation and to make sure we push equity to the front of the table every time," she said.   

Health NZ boss Margie Apa told Newshub Nation its first priority is to focus on the workforce. 

"Our priority will be to work on the… staff shortages and how we can take advantage of being one organisation that can coordinate activity, support shifting of resources to support workforces while we are building a pipeline of people coming into our system," Apa said. 

Little has given Health NZ some immediate targets that he expects them to meet and will hold them accountable to. 

"Workforce is one of those important initiatives. The minister has said to us we need to improve workplace culture and we know that our staff, our management and our leadership need to create a workplace environment that makes it easy for our frontline staff to do the right thing and their jobs," Apa said.

"Innovation is a really big agenda item for the minister, we know that with 20 DHBs… there are gems of innovation and improvements that we need to lift up and get much quicker at spreading across the country."      

One idea Manuel is pushing is having a more mobile workforce that goes out into rural and remote areas, which was seen during the COVID-19 vaccination rollout. 

"Our aim is to make sure that wherever our people are, we going to get services closer to them and I think you've heard quite a bit about this recently and we saw it during COIVD, mobile services, that go back out into those rural and remote communities," she said. 

"There is actually a lot we could do if we were doing things smarter, so using wearables, using innovation, using digital technology to make sure when we send those mobile vans out there, they're kitted out with all they need as well as our workforce to go to our people and not have them lining up outside clinics.

"At the moment we've got people waiting for hours on end, either inside primary care practices and/or ED and we want to get our people out of there to take the pressure off the frontline at ED, so we can do a lot more mobily and this is something we could do fairly fast." 

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