Closing the health equity gap for Māori, better co-operation between health and social services, and more training for rural GPs to counter Northland's doctor shortage — those are just a few of the aims of a new Northland-wide health entity.

Mahitahi Hauora has been formed by merging Manaia Health Primary Health Organisation (PHO) in Whangārei and Kaipara, and Te Tai Tokerau PHO in the Far North.

The new organisation, which was launched at the Treaty Grounds on Friday by Health Minister David Clark, will provide most primary (non-hospital) health services in Northland.

Health Minister David Clark arrives at the Treaty Grounds accompanied by district health board kaumatua Te Ihi Tito, MPs Matt King and Willow-Jean Prime, and Mahitahi Hauora chairman Eru Lyndon.
Health Minister David Clark arrives at the Treaty Grounds accompanied by district health board kaumatua Te Ihi Tito, MPs Matt King and Willow-Jean Prime, and Mahitahi Hauora chairman Eru Lyndon.

The merger is the biggest shake-up of primary health in Northland since PHOs were created in 2001.

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As well as making better use of scarce resources, Mahitahi Hauora promises to do more to tackle the ''determinants of health'' — the social, economic, environmental factors that lead to poor health — instead of just trying to fix the illnesses that result.

Clark described Mahitahi Hauora as a ground-breaking collaboration that would set an example for the rest of New Zealand by ensuring ''better and fairer outcomes for everybody''.

Hard facts showing the present system wasn't working for Māori included a 2018 survey that found one in five Māori had not seen their doctor in the previous year because of the cost, Clark said.

Kaumatua Harris Shortland (Ngati Hine) recites a karakia inside Te Whare Runanga during the launch of Mahitahi Hauora. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Kaumatua Harris Shortland (Ngati Hine) recites a karakia inside Te Whare Runanga during the launch of Mahitahi Hauora. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Mahitahi Hauora chief executive Phillip Balmer, previously the chief operating officer at Counties Manukau District Health Board, said people with health and social issues currently had to deal with about 10 different agencies.

Under the new model, the district health board, primary care, Māori providers and social care agencies would work as a team, he said.

''We're also going to take extra steps to seek out people who miss out on care. We're not worried about the worried well, we're worried about the unworried unwell,'' Balmer said.

Mahitahi Hauora chairman Eru Lyndon speaks during the organisation's launch at the Treaty Grounds on Friday. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Mahitahi Hauora chairman Eru Lyndon speaks during the organisation's launch at the Treaty Grounds on Friday. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Measures to ease Northland's GP shortage would include making more use of whānau ora workers and nurse practitioners to broaden the workforce, while the health board's district nurses would work with local doctors instead of competing with them.

Clark was also quizzed about the GP shortage — Kaitaia practices, for example, are refusing to take on any new patients — and said the latest Budget had funded 30 training places for rural GPs. The Government was also boosting training for health professionals in rural locations.

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''But obviously you can't train a rural GP overnight.''

Northland District Health Board chief executive Nick Chamberlain speaks during the launch in Te Whare Rūnanga (the Treaty Grounds' carved meeting house). Photo / Peter de Graaf
Northland District Health Board chief executive Nick Chamberlain speaks during the launch in Te Whare Rūnanga (the Treaty Grounds' carved meeting house). Photo / Peter de Graaf

Mahitahi Hauora has 80 direct employees and allocates about $60 million in funding each year to 42 medical practices, employing 182 GPs, and Māori health providers. Its chairman is Eru Lyndon, who is also Northland's regional commissioner for social development.