A Northland doctor is urging medical staff to embrace and understand their ethnic biases in a bid to eradicate racism from the healthcare system.

Dr Kyle Eggleton, a GP at Māori health provider Ki A Ora Ngātiwai in Whangarei, was among healthcare workers and patients who spoke out about bias for a video campaign designed to address the problem.

The videos were recently made public on the Health Quality & Safety Commission's website as part of Patient Safety Week/Wiki Haumaru Tūroro which runs from November 3 to 9.

Eggleton, who was elected to the Northland District Health Board last month, said bias was a "big problem" in healthcare, and was a factor in poor Māori health statistics.


In the video he talks about how he was surprised to discover his own bias toward Māori when he conducted a self-audit in 2008.

He found he was less likely to prescribe cholesterol-lowering drugs to Māori than to Pākehā for ischaemic heart disease.

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"We know there's lots of evidence in medical literature around how some groups are treated differently to other groups," he said.

"In New Zealand, Pacific and Māori tend to have poorer health outcomes and the reasons could be bias that exists in the health care system. I'd like to see any person working in health realising that we all have bias and one of the ways of trying to address health and equity is looking at our own bias and trying to things a little bit differently."

In September the Northland DHB admitted it was aware that "as an institution we fitted the definitions which described racism, inequity and inequality" following a Herald report that Auckland DHB had concluded racism a "basic, underlying" reason for the health chasm between Māori and Pacific New Zealanders and Pākehā.

The NDHB drafted a position statement stating "Institutional (and systemic) racism contributes to inequalities and poorer health outcomes in our communities."

"It is the collective responsibility of the Northland health system to rid itself of this practice. We are committed to this within NDHB working together with people, whānau/families, communities, hapū, iwi, health agencies and other partners to influence this change and improve access to healthcare to Northland Māori."


NDHB chairwoman Sally Macauley said the statement was signed off at the last board meeting in October.

It was a "totally good move", she said.

Northland District Health Board's Sally Macauley says the board's statement on institutional and systemic racism was signed off last month.
Northland District Health Board's Sally Macauley says the board's statement on institutional and systemic racism was signed off last month.

"We're working toward equity for everybody, not just Maori but Pacific and Asian and ensuring that our people are given the correct treatment from our staff and have access.

"It's dealing with everybody; we're all different and we need to learn everyone's culture and ensure they are given the correct advice."

The chair of the commission's Te Rōpū Māori advisory group, Ria Earp, said failure to meet the requirements of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, failure to invest in Māori initiatives, and the ongoing effects of colonisation all contribute to poorer health outcomes for Māori.

Dr Kyle Eggleton. Photo / Supplied
Dr Kyle Eggleton. Photo / Supplied

"The distortions built from implicit bias practice lead directly to institutional racism."

Kerikeri GP Chris Reid said a good way to go about understanding bias "is to accept you've got it and then embrace it".

"Ninety nine percent of the time bias puts you in good stead, it's your instincts and often you have pretty good judgement. But you do have to check yourself; sometimes people get it blatantly wrong. We've all put our foot in it and that's usually because of some bias."