Health Minister Andrew Little's emotional tribute to 'hero' health professionals

Health Minister Andrew Little delivered an emotional tribute to "hero" health professionals as he unveiled a major restructure of New Zealand's health services.

The Government plans to create a new Crown entity Health NZ, split into four regional divisions, to replace the 20 District Health Boards (DHBs). It's hoped the new system will enable consistency of healthcare across New Zealand. 

The Government will also create a Māori Health Authority, which will work in partnership with Health NZ to commission care across the country, ensuring the needs of Māori are met through design and delivery. 

Little delivered a speech at the Beehive outlining the proposals, followed by a few off-script words of his own, about his experience dealing with health professionals. 

"I think of the father of an infant boy sitting on the theatre operating table getting the planned care that has been arranged for some time, knowing the fear and anxiety that goes with that - not just in the boy, but in the father as well," Little said. 

"You look at those health professionals, and they are heroes - our health professionals are heroes. I know... I've been that father. One of the heroes that I looked at on that day is in this room today."

Little's office confirmed to Newshub he was talking about his son who had surgery. Little himself revealed he had a "little procedure" before Christmas, just after he became Health Minister.

"We're all users of the healthcare system," he told reporters. 

Health Minister Andrew Little
Health Minister Andrew Little. Photo credit: Newshub

Little also acknowledged in his speech concerns raised by Associate Health Minister for Māori, Peeni Henare, who said for too long Māori have avoided seeking health services. 

"Many Māori don't like going to the doctor. And it's not because we don't care about our health, or the health of our whānau," said Henare. "It's because our experiences of the health system, the experiences of our parents and grandparents have been negative."

Little said it's time for Māori to be treated equally within the health system. 

"I think of another group of people… They are the ones who are missing out - the ones who don't think about going to the doctor because the experience is too hard. The experience of their parents and forebears is too hard," Little said. 

"We have to change that. We have to change that. We are a small nation and we can make this change working together. We can make this change in the spirit of Te Tiriti."

Little said the health system restructures set down a challenge for the nation as a whole. 

"It is now time for us to rise to the challenge to do better than we're doing, not just about healthcare but about wellbeing - keeping us all safe and well," he said. 

"This is about opportunity and there is huge opportunity."