National | GP

Tamariki Māori suffering most from health inequities

New research from the Universities of Auckland and Otago has found Māori children are unable to engage with primary healthcare, outpatient care, medicines and laboratory investigation to the same degree as non-Māori and have higher rates of avoidable hospitalisations and deaths.

The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners says perversely, this has saved the health sector millions of dollars each year.

It is calling for urgent action to reduce these health inequities for Māori and particularly tamariki Māori.

The college’s Māori representative group Te Akoranga a Māui says the findings are neither new nor surprising and that is the problem.

Chair Dr Rachel Mackie, (Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Whātua, Patuharakeke) says equity is a major health concern and Māori are worse off because not enough is being done.

“We have known how the health system fails to deliver appropriate levels of care for Māori for decades. We constantly raise the issue, and it is still not being addressed. Māori tamariki are our future and they deserve to have the same outcomes in their health.“

GP access

Dr Mackie says the problem is not only in hospitals.

“The Ministry of Health’s 2019/20 New Zealand Health Survey reported Māori adults had the highest prevalence of not being able to book an appointment at their usual general practice within 24 hours, which often will affect the whole whānau. “

Dr Mackie says addressing the well-documented barriers would be a good start in the right direction.

“We need to constantly reflect on and change how we deliver care in our communities as there is no one-size-fits-all solution for reducing health inequities.”

The college’s medical director, Dr Bryan Betty, says it’s crucial for all New Zealanders to have access to a general practitioner.

As an example, Dr Betty points to rheumatic fever, a disease known as the disease of poverty, which disproportionally affects Māori children.

'Unacceptable rates' of rheumatic fever

“It is a devastating childhood illness that can cause a lifetime of poor health, including heart failure…

It is unacceptable to have these rates of rheumatic fever in New Zealand. “

“Our specialist skills allow us to often catch conditions and symptoms early and treat them to keep our patients healthy. We know that when people have easier access to GPs they reduce the risk of being hospitalised. “