100 years for Māori life expectancy to reach pākehā - report

A new report finds that, based on current trends, it will take a century for Māori life expectancy to reach that of pākehā, unless dramatic changes are made to the health system.

The Creating Solutions Te Ara Whai Tika report by the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists Toi Mata Hauora, recommends a national goal of achieving health equity for all New Zealanders by 2040 and lays out a roadmap of policies to get there.

It follows presentations, discussions, and input from more than 200 health professionals who attended a virtual conference co-hosted by ASMS and the Canterbury Charity Hospital Trust, established by Dame Sue and Associate Professor Phil Bagshaw.

Not only is there a gap in life expectancy between Māori and pakeha men of about 7.6 years, the gap in life expectancy between the wealthiest and the poorest and middle-income New Zealanders is widening. The wealthiest 10% of New Zealanders can now expect to live a decade longer than the poorest 10%, who are disproportionately Māori and Pasifika.

Health equity means everyone has the opportunity and support to live the healthiest life they can.

ASMS executive director Sarah Dalton says, unfortunately, that’s a very distant reality in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“It is shocking to think that we have some groups of people dying 10 years sooner than others and successive governments have failed to act.

“Our doctors and nurses are treating patients in hospitals only to send them back home to the conditions that made them sick in the first place. You cannot have a fit-for-purpose public hospital system without addressing core social issues like poverty, racism, poor housing and unhealthy foods.

“Currently we wait until people are so sick, they get admitted to hospital to receive diagnosis and treatment. This is without doubt the least cost-effective way to run our health system. It leads to overburdened hospitals, long wait times, and burned-out healthcare workers,” Dalton says.

The report recommends cost barriers such as GP user charges must be removed to help the estimated 540,000 adult New Zealanders who can’t access a GP due to cost. In addition, more than 1.7 million adults can’t access a dentist due to user charges.

Health inequities cost New Zealand billions of dollars in avoidable illness and hospitalisations. Addressing them would bring economic benefits such as improved productivity, higher tax revenues and reduced costs in social and government allowances.

Health inequity has been a long time in the making, and recently it has been magnified by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“If we want to rebuild our economy and future-proof our health system, health equity must be front and centre, especially as the government pushes ahead with wholesale health sector reform. Having a Māori Health Authority with full commissioning rights is one very positive step in the right direction,” Dalton says.

The ASMS Creating Solutions report recommends a package of policies to help New Zealand achieve a goal of health equity by 2040.

It is being presented to the government as an urgent call to target its health and wellbeing spend where it’s most needed.