Chris Hipkins asks Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall to make sure new surgery equity tool isn't discriminatory

Auckland surgeons are now being required to consider patients' ethnicity - alongside other factors - when deciding who gets operated on first.

The Prime Minister says need will always come first but has told his Health Minister to make sure there's no discrimination.

When it comes to who waits the longest on surgery waitlists, it's Māori and Pasifika.

"At the moment there is clear evidence, Māori, Pasific, rural and low-income communities have been discriminated against in the health system," said Prime Minister Chris Hipkins. 

In an attempt to balance inequities, a team of clinicians within Te Whatu Ora has developed what the health system calls an Equity Adjustor Waitlist Tool for non-urgent surgeries.

The five factors weighed up when prioritising treatment are clinical priority, time spent on the waitlist, geographic location - ie whether the patient is isolated - deprivation level, and their ethnicity, specifically Māori and Pacific people.

The Association of General Surgeons is uncomfortable with the policy.

"We feel that it's a little bit simplistic for what is a very complex problem with many underlying contributing factors," said surgeon Dr Vanessa Blair.

The Opposition says it's outright racism.

"We've got a Government that is actually actively promoting racial discrimination now and it's got to stop," said ACT leader David Seymour. 

"Well it's pretty simple race shouldn't play any part in surgical need and determining surgical need and that's our position," said National leader Christopher Luxon. 

The Prime Minister said clinical need will always come first but the equity tool is merely righting past wrongs when it comes to inequity for Māori and Pasifika.

"There are four groups of people I have spoken about - Māori, Pacific, rural and low-income - those who are raising concerns only seem to talk about Māori and Pacific people."

Newshub asked to speak to numerous Māori health experts, but were told Māoridom felt blindsided by this and said it should be up to Te Aka Whai Ora - the Māori Health Authority - to speak to the needs for this tool. 

We put in requests but instead, Te Whatu Ora - the national health body - stepped in.

It said in a statement that the equity adjustor tool was developed to make the health system fairer for everyone and was open to adding other ethnicities or risk factors to add to the tool as they're identified.

But the Health Minister will be double-checking whether it's discriminatory, just in case.

"To make sure there is a reassurance that we're not replacing one form of discrimination with another," said Hipkins.

Because the last thing the health system needs is to be more discriminatory.