Creation of independent Māori health authority picks up pace, set to go to Cabinet in coming weeks

Associate Minister of Health Peeni Henare says the plan isn't far off.
Associate Minister of Health Peeni Henare says the plan isn't far off. Photo credit: Getty

Meriana Johnsen for RNZ

The creation of a long-awaited independent Māori health authority has picked up pace, with a draft of the agency set to go to Cabinet in the coming weeks.

Māori die on average seven years younger than non-Māori in New Zealand, which health advocates have pointed to as evidence tangata whenua aren't getting value from the current health system.

South Island Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency's Helen Leahy said an independent Māori health authority would better direct money to where it's needed.

She's delighted such a plan was getting support from the government.

"It's really good that the Minister has heard those voices [and] good too to see other voices coming in like the Medical Association and the Association of Salaried Medical specialists to be able to see that an independent Māori authority with commissioning rights would achieve the change that we have to see in order to advance Māori health outcomes."

Waitangi Tribunal claimants who've championed an independent Māori Health Authority say it must come with commissioning rights, including a separate budget, with the ability to choose and buy the services of health providers.

The detail is yet to be revealed, but Associate Minister of Health Peeni Henare said it wasn't far off.

"I expect that there will be some cabinet decisions made in the coming weeks with an eye towards not just the Budget, but of course we made it clear to those Māori stakeholders that we would be doing this, and doing it with urgency".

Lead Waitangi Tribunal claimant on Māori health, Lady Tureiti Moxon said people were already being "tap[ped] on the shoulder" to become commissioning agencies.

The Whānau Ora model, where people go into homes to assess needs and connect families with the right services, has been suggested as a blueprint for the new authority.

"It would start in the homes of whānau who would be looking at what are the action points that we need to address in order to improve our health, [and] how do we do that in a way that makes sense for our circumstances," Leahy said.

"That might mean going down to the Māori Health Provider or it might mean going down to a specialist service, or it might mean accessing support that's in the home or at the marae, and so having a range of options which is what commissioning does so well, is able to respond to the local need and to see what it is our whānau need.

"Is it a green prescription more than antibiotics, or is it specialist health services that are required?"

However, Leahy said she'd need to speak with the nine iwi in Te Waipounamu - the South Island, before she'd support her agency taking on this role.

Māori advisor on primary health, Lance Norman said Māori providers were ready for the authority.

"Most of them, because they're aware of the thinking and have been part of the conversation, most of them are already gearing up to be what it should be once it's announced officially and once it actually has purchasing and funding capacity".

Norman said it must be well-funded, and he has a figure in mind.

"We know the healthcare system is about $20 billion per annum, we know Māori make up about 15 per cent of the total population but it's about 20 to 30 percent based off some of the needs we have... [so] probably about $5 billion".