Put down your swords, there's a bigger fight coming.
That was the message from Mahitahi Hauora board chairman Geoff Milner at the primary healthcare entity's annual meeting on Friday evening.
Mahitahi Hauora, which manages all primary health (non-hospital) services, formed in 2019 by replacing the Far North's Te Tai Tokerau primary health organisation (PHO) and Whangārei's Manaia Health PHO.
At the time, the merger of the two PHOs was sold as a renewed commitment by GPs, Māori health providers, iwi and the Northland District Health Board to work together.
However, it seems more collaboration is required as Northland's health sector waits in anticipation for the impending implementation of wide-ranging recommendations in the Health and Disability System Review, which was released in June.
The review, led by Helen Clark's former chief of staff Heather Simpson, advocated for a significant change to the health sector which could lead to the disestablishment of PHOs and a reduction of the current 20 DHBs to as few as eight.
Currently, there were critical issues in primary healthcare nationally, marked by the unrest around nurses' pay parity, unsustainable general practice funding models and the impending retirement of many experienced GPs.
Speaking to a room of primary healthcare operators, general practice owners and Northland DHB representatives, Milner warned if all parties weren't able to work together, it would jeopardise their future.
"Let's get over pointing fingers at whose fault it is because while we are pointing fingers at the DHB, the DHB's pointing fingers at Mahitahi Hauora, GPs are pointing fingers at Mahitahi," Milner said.
"If we don't demonstrate we are all a united platform in Northland, the Government will do to us, rather than us doing it to the Government."
Milner, also the chief executive of Māori health provider Ngāti Hine Health Trust, referenced the possibility of losing the Northland DHB and what consequences that could have.
"If we lose that voice ... then our voice is another step away from the decision making, so therefore we need to be supporting each other in Northland and keeping our little sword fights with each other in context of the bigger picture."
Milner's comments were furthered by board member and Ki A Ora Ngātiwai chief executive Lynette Stewart, who gave two passionate speeches, boldly claiming she wouldn't see Northland's healthcare organisations depleted on her watch.
Speaking to the Northern Advocate after the meeting, Milner said poor Government policy was the true cause of any conflict in Northland's health sector.
However, Milner noted there needed to be more conversation at a DHB, PHO level about patients' needs, rather than the issues of GPs, Māori health providers or DHBs.
"These are very real issues, but actually in many of those forums that I've been at, not one person has talked about a patient, a client, or whānau, our conversations have become about us - me, myself and I.
"We only exist because of those communities so my hope is that we begin to make sure that in advocating Northland's position, we're advocating it from the positions and lens of our communities, who are doing it tough."
With Andrew Little recently confirmed as the new health minister, Milner was confident Little would understand the relevance of Northland's healthcare organisations, given the minister's work negotiating Te Tiriti o Waitangi settlements.