Health Minister Andrew Little introduces 12 new indicators to replace 'arbitrary' health targets

Health Minister Andrew Little is launching 12 new indicators to assess how well the health system is working for New Zealanders, to replace what he describes as "arbitrary" targets scrapped in 2017.

The 12 new indicators are part of the Government's huge reform of the health sector, with all 20 District Health Boards (DHBs) being disestablished and replaced with a new centralised authority called Health New Zealand. 

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

The 12 new indicators are based on the Government's six priorities for health - improving child wellbeing, mental health, and preventative measures, as well as creating an equitable public health system, better primary healthcare, and financial sustainability. 

Progress will be publicly reported on every three months, once the indicators are in place. 

The indicators will replace the health performance targets set up in 2007 by Labour's then-Health Minister Peter Hodgson. Those targets measured a wide range of areas, from immunisation, to oral health, elective services, cancer waiting times, diabetes, mental health, healthier lifestyles, and smoking. 

The health targets were cut back under National, with former Health Minister Tony Ryall saying there were "far too many indicators and committees and targets".

When Labour took over again in 2017, the targets were all but scrapped under then-Health Minister David Clark, due to what he described as "perverse incentives". 

National has been calling on the Government to bring them back, but Little says the 12 new indicators are a better way of assessing the health system's performance under the soon-to-be reformed sector. 

"The targets have been in place since 2007 and there's plenty of evidence - from New Zealand and other countries - that they don't work," Little said on Friday, as he launched the new indicators.

Health Minister Andrew Little.
Health Minister Andrew Little. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

"They are arbitrary and don't reflect the real priorities of the health system. Even worse, they led to what can only be described as perverse outcomes, with District Health Boards seeking to meet, such as doing lots of small procedures instead of fewer major ones so they could claim more people were being treated."

Little says the indicators are a "new way of thinking". 

"They are not about incentivising with funding or pointing the finger if targets are not met - they are neither a carrot nor a stick," he said. 

"They are a measure of how well our health system is functioning across the country, and an opportunity to then create local solutions to address local health needs. This framework will help the sector focus on the areas that most need to improve - especially for Māori and Pacific peoples."

It's expected the new indicators will be in place by July 2022. The measurement criteria still needs to be finalised, and further indicators could be developed, for example into youth health and equity of access to health services. 

An interim Health NZ organisation and Māori Health Authority will be set up in late 2021, before legislation is passed to establish the formal organisation. The formal date to transfer to the new structure is likely to be July 2022. 

Here's a breakdown of the indicators:

Health Minister Andrew Little introduces 12 new indicators to replace 'arbitrary' health targets
Photo credit: Supplied