I am pleased that a Māori Health Authority will be set up, part of the Government's reform of the health and disability sector.
Well I would be, wouldn't I?
After 11 years as an elected member of a district health board, I know there has been little significant change to the woeful state of Māori health. Sadly, they continue to die eight to 10 years earlier than Pākehā New Zealanders.
I don't believe I have worked with anyone in recent years who hasn't wanted to see Māori in good health and living well. However, I do know DHBs have struggled to find solutions to improving Māori health outcomes.
From my observation, they needed only to look closer to home. So many reports, including from the Ministry of Health itself, have concluded that the current health system does not serve Māori well.
Health experts say there are gross inequities in the system caused largely by institutional racism.
Māori know this, and in the past large numbers have just walked away from the system altogether, not engaged. Vocal Māori leaders are now demanding Māori receive the same access to quality healthcare as Pākehā, and this includes early medical intervention aimed at improving health, treating diseases, injuries and ensuring prompt diagnosis.
The Māori Health Authority will make certain Māori have a say in how these services are designed and provided in the future and by whom. Health Minister Andrew Little made an inspired choice in eminent New Zealander Sir Mason Durie to lead the initial work on the establishment of the authority.
He brings unquestionable health experience, is well respected and a man of great mana.
Under his guidance, Māori health service providers know the authority is off to a promising start. They are the ones who will play a big role in turning the tide for Māori health.
They have been working in their communities for years. Quietly gaining trust, building capacity and putting in the hard yards - not easy when these communities often comprise vulnerable families who find it much harder to live and thrive when poverty is ever-present.
I have heard the bleating of those who believe a Māori Health Authority is a separatist move, apartheid even. Health services must be "needs-based", they remind us.
If that is the case, why aren't Māori health needs being addressed already?
They are plainly there for all to see. It's because their health needs are not given the same weight of consideration as Pākehā. It's that simple. A health system that knowingly allows Māori to die years earlier than Pākehā, and isn't prepared to do something drastic about it, is not a system based on need. It is one that perpetuates the myth that all needs are treated equally.
I know this is not true. There is a whole system that has developed and grown over time to support Māori misery rather than carefully examining what is being provided and calling for families to be placed at the centre rather than professional groups and other vested interest parties.
I don't blame Māori leaders for saying enough is enough.
"We will make the best choices for our families. We want resources to go to providers we trust, who actually care about and want to see Māori flourishing," Lady Tureiti Moxon said.
They'll encourage health literacy and coaching, and together with families undertake regular checks and monitoring, with any necessary adjustments, to get the best health outcomes not only for individuals but whole families.
The Government hasn't just focused on the need to make Māori health a priority. The health minister will scrap all 20 DHBs to set up Health NZ, to oversee four new district health areas.
This is the biggest health shake-up in decades. I think most New Zealanders respect the work our health professionals undertake at primary, secondary and tertiary levels.
Perhaps they never realised there are inequities in the current system. Now that they do, I hope they will applaud the positive move so that "needs-based" isn't just a convenient catchphrase bandied about by attention-seeking politicians.
My only concern is what happens in a few years when the Māori Health Authority, that puts families at the centre, is highly successful.
Will we hear cries of foul play, then?
- Merepeka Raukawa-Tait is chairwoman of the Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency, a Lakes District Health Board member and Rotorua District councillor.