The Government’s controversial health tool that prioritises Māori and Pasifika patients for surgeries has been used in Northland since May despite Te Whatu Ora insisting it would not be rolled out in the region.
The Health Minister pushed pause on the equity adjuster waitlist policy in June, following intervention from Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, but Te Whatu Ora confirmed on Wednesday the tool was being used in urology and orthopaedics in Tai Tokerau.
Exactly how it’s being used, or if it will become a permanent fixture in Northland hospitals, remains unclear.
A spokeswoman for the public health agency said “the tool has been tested for use in urology and orthopaedics in Te Tai Tokerau”.
“Evaluation of the tool is now under way to check it is achieving its purpose and it will not be used in any other regions until the evaluation is complete.”
Te Whatu Ora’s Equity Adjustor Score gives priority to Māori and Pacific Island patients on the grounds they have historically had unequal access to healthcare.
The tool uses an algorithm to prioritise patients according to clinical priority, time spent on the waitlist, geographic location, ethnicity, and deprivation level.
In the ethnicity category, Māori and Pasifika are top of the list, while European New Zealanders and other ethnicities, like Indian and Chinese, are lower-ranked.
Auckland surgeons have been using the tool at Auckland and Middlemore Hospitals since February.
Te Whatu Ora Tai Tokerau told the Northern Advocate on June 21 the policy “is not being rolled out in Northland”.
But on June 22, Health Minister Ayesha Verrall told National’s health spokesman Dr Shane Reti Northland had been using it since May.
“I am advised that Te Tai Tokerau Northland is using the tool for urology and orthopaedic wait lists at all sites,” she said.
“This has been in place since May 2023.”
Further questioning by Act deputy leader Brooke van Velden revealed the move was endorsed by the Northern Region Leadership team.
Verrall’s answers were in response to written Parliamentary questions from Reti and came two days after it was reported the Government had shelved plans for a nationwide rollout with Prime Minister Chris Hipkins saying he didn’t want to see one form of discrimination replaced by another.
Reti said the Government had “not been honest with how this was deployed”.
“I don’t think they’ve been completely truthful as to how far and how wide this would be rolled out.
“It’s been poorly deployed, and the minister has been less than forthright with what’s been happening.”
The Te Whatu Ora spokeswoman said clinical need was the “greatest determining factor when prioritising our planned care surgery waiting lists”.
“Those who are the sickest or in most need of care are prioritised and treated first.”
She refused to answer questions around what the use of the tool would mean for Northlanders already on waiting lists, and whether or not non-Māori/Pacific patients would be pushed out even further.
Reti said there are already “so many problems with waiting lists”.
“I don’t think this is something that’s going to achieve the objectives that they want.
“All it’s going to do is upset people and doctors and create even more confusion and unhappiness in the sector. And that’s what’s happening already.”
Jenny Ling is a news reporter and features writer for the Northern Advocate. She has a special interest in covering roading, health, business and animal welfare issues.