Half the country's district health boards could consider or have committed to prioritising Māori and Pacific patients for some elective surgeries, the Weekend Herald can reveal.

The changes are an effort to make sure those groups don't fall further behind the Pākehā majority as DHBs clear huge backlogs of planned procedures and surgeries, caused by the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

• Read the full Weekend Herald investigation by clicking HERE

Capital & Coast and Hutt Valley DHBs - covering the Wellington region - recently confirmed Māori and Pacific patients would be prioritised for surgeries.

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Eight others are considering or have left the door open to similar changes, permanently or while surgery backlogs are cleared after Covid restrictions. They are: Northland, Nelson Marlborough, Taranaki, Wairarapa, Southern, Bay of Plenty, MidCentral and Auckland.

No decisions have been made and how any prioritisation would work is being fine-tuned and will likely differ between DHBs and the surgery needed.

Counties Manukau, Waitematā, Hawke's Bay and Tairāwhiti boards - didn't directly answer when asked if they are or might consider such changes, or said it was too early to comment.

Currently, people accepted for treatment are given a priority ranking. For example, priority one patients are considered urgent and might be seen within two weeks, priority two may be seen within six to eight weeks, and priority three and non-urgent cases face a wait of months.

Capital & Coast and Hutt Valley DHBs say Māori and Pacific ethnicity will be used to help rank patients once they're already within a priority band, along with clinical urgency and wait time.

It isn't to fix scheduling problems, the DHBs say, but rather to balance the fact those groups are less likely to access healthcare "and delays that may occur across the healthcare pathway from primary to secondary care".

"We anticipate that our plans to increase planned surgery overall will offset our policy, meaning any impact on other patients would be minimal," a spokesman said.

Studies and data from DHBs show Māori and Pacific people are less likely to be referred or accepted for treatment in the first place, and once in the system generally get less treatment.

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"Our data shows Māori and Pasifika patients take longer to move from referral to listing for procedure and often have to present multiple times," Auckland DHB chair Pat Snedden wrote in a paper that is still being debated by the board.

"Our current system privileges some groups already. Māori and Pasifika are not in that group usually."

• Read the full Weekend Herald investigation by clicking HERE