Andrew Little concedes New Zealand's struggling health system isn't an overnight fix

It's the biggest shake-up of Aotearoa's health system in a generation and it's called Health New Zealand. 

From midnight on Thursday, our 20 District Health Boards will merge into one national organisation.

Health New Zealand will lead the day-to-day running of the health system for the whole population through four regional divisions.

And the new Māori Health Authority has been formed to work alongside Health New Zealand to achieve better outcomes for Māori.

And the Health Minister's being realistic, conceding it won't be an overnight fix - but it's a start. 

The health system is taking a hit from COVID and flu and is stretched to the extreme. Little admits there are chronic shortages but said there's now a better chance of fixing them.

"So big challenges we have at the moment, like recruiting more nurses, it's one organisation recruiting nurses not 20 different organisations recruiting in the same market."

Day one of the new system won't look any different, but over time he said it will mean more consistent care.

"Things like our cancer treatments are the same treatments available wherever you are in the country."

Māori Health Authority CEO Riana Manuel said Māori are most likely to die from cancer and have a shorter life expectancy - something she's determined to change.

"It took us 182 years to get us here. I would challenge that it's not going to take that long to turn it around."

She said removing barriers to health services for Māori, by introducing things like self-tests for cervical screening, will help.

"Making sure that our children will not inherit the same system that we did.  So that's got to be our ultimate, we call it Te Pae Tawhiti, so it's that destination that we're moving toward," said Manuel. 

College of GPs director Dr Bryan Betty said it's crucial Health New Zealand addresses three key issues: funding, delivery of healthcare to high-needs areas, and more GPs.

"We have a very apparent shortage of general practitioners in this country, which has developed over the last two decades and needs to be resolved. Many parts of the country now cannot access a general practitioner effectively and that is affecting the health of New Zealanders."

Patients' advocate Malcolm Mulholland supports the move to one health organisation but said the timing's lousy.

"The health system is effectively in meltdown and so the timing couldn't be worse."

"Look, we can find every excuse to kick the can down the road and not make the change ... [but] we have got to make the change, we've made the change," said Minister Little. 

Little said every dollar saved on administration will go to frontline healthcare and treatments.

"Sadly for many patients, they won't see those changes overnight, so when Health NZ takes effect it'll actually mean nothing for them on the ground but eventually, over some years, hopefully, these issues can be addressed," said Mulholland. 

So, no promises of a fix by Friday, but one big merger is one big step towards better health in the future.