Bay DHB staff had "significant reservations" about a Covid-19 vaccination pamphlet which some felt implied Māori were the virus - but it was approved after the agency which made the images said iwi had endorsed it.
The Covid-19 pamphlet distributed by the Bay of Plenty District Health Board was pulled from circulation at the end of July after it received backlash for the images used.
The pamphlet featured cartoons of a virus with a mataora, or full-face moko. Another image depicted a person stabbing a virus with a tewhatewha, or spear.
The pamphlet was labelled "despicable" by Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley and "completely inappropriate" by Waiariki MP and Te Paati Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi at the time.
The Bay of Plenty Times requested information through the Official Information Act about what checks took place and who the most senior staff member to sign off the design was before it was released.
Yesterday, the Bay of Plenty Times received the executive summary of the report of an independent investigation into the release of the brochure by the Bay of Plenty DHB under the Official Information Act.
Work on the brochure started after discussions within the DHB vaccination team about the value of developing communications that would better resonate with Māori. An external communications agency was tasked with compiling this communication, which took the form of a brochure, the report said.
The draft brochure was sent from an external communications agency to the Bay of Plenty DHB on May 14.
Communications about the draft brochure took place between the DHB and the agency between May 14 and 19, in which statements made in emails by the agency included that "feedback had been sought from … iwi" on the brochure and "endorsement" for the brochure had been received from "iwi", the report said.
There was "insufficient discussion" between the DHB and the agency about which iwi had been engaged and what their views were, the report said.
No written contract or schedule was issued by the DHB for the compilation of the brochure, and accordingly there was no clear contractual record of who, if anyone, would discuss the draft brochure with relevant iwi before it was finalised, the report said.
A senior representative within the DHB's Māori Health Unit (Te Pare ō Toi) also discussed the draft brochure with the agency and took from the discussion that it had been "approved by iwi".
"The representative relied on what she had been told by the agency, and conveyed the endorsement of Te Pare ō Toi for the brochure on that basis."
Several DHB staff members held "significant reservations" about the images used on the brochure but they relied on what the DHB had been told by the agency about feedback being "sought from iwi" and endorsement having been "provided by iwi".
The agency's stance in the investigation was that its engagement with "some iwi" about the draft brochure comprised its own cultural safety process, the report said.
It was not conducted by the agency on behalf of the DHB and could not be relied on by the DHB in substitution for the DHB conducting its own approval process, including any engagement with iwi that may have been needed.
"Unfortunately, that caveat was not made clear by the agency in the language used in its emails during the period May 14 to 19, 2021, nor was that stance consistent with the urgency with which the agency sought Bay of Plenty DHB's approval for the brochure to proceed.
"That caveat was also not understood by Bay of Plenty DHB at the time approval for the brochure was granted.
"The disconnect that occurred about what engagement had occurred with iwi about the images in the draft brochure, by whom and on what basis, was significant, and materially contributed to the decision to proceed with the brochure.
"While in our view all parties acted in good faith and out of a genuine desire to produce an effective resource which resonated/connected with Māori, the lack of specific discussion about what engagement had occurred with iwi about the images in the draft brochure was a major failing in the process which led to the brochure being finalised and released into the public domain," the report said.
In the Official Information Act request, the Bay of Plenty Times asked what needed to go into place to ensure this could never happen again, for which there were nine recommendations in the report.
This included the importance for the DHB to "obtain clarity" of the meaning of "broad or generalised statements", such as "endorsement" and "feedback was sought from iwi".
The report also recommended the DHB give "careful consideration" to who specifically had authority to give the final sign-off for communications with Māori content.