Under the knife fight: 4 Reasons Māori surgical priority shouldn't be for debate

The Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi 1938 oil on canvas by Marcus King. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library

Hoping we'd somehow dodge the typical overheated race-baiting in the lead-up to the election? There's always 2026.

Today's knife (scalpel?) fight comes in the form of politicians taking jabs on whether Māori and Pasifika should be prioritised on surgical wait lists.

This policy by the way appears to have been going since February without incident.

Somehow today though, partisan media and political spin doctors (the worst kind of doctors), have elected to land a few points in the lead-up to October's election.

Here are four facts about why today's debate should've never existed, and why Māori waiting list prioritisation should've happened decades ago.

4: Health outcomes

Māori experience poorer health outcomes than non-Māori, for no fault of their own.

Māori have higher rates of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and respiratory diseases, which may require surgical intervention.

Reasons are varied and, if you're a racist, the reality will probably annoy you. Unlike much of what you've heard on talkback today though, they're real, they're evidence-based, and linked to at the bottom of this page.

Urban-rural divides, socio-economic disparities, genetics, institutional racism and being whakamā after more than a century of colonial rule, are all in the mix.

Prioritising Māori surgery can prevent already sick people from developing more complex conditions, meaning the health system is more available for everyone.

3: Life expectancy

Māori have a lower life expectancy than non-Māori.

Stats NZ says Māori on average live about six years less than non-Māori.

Much of today's talk though was about what is 'fair' and 'equal' in society.

Well, surely if you pay your taxes into government coffers, retire at the same time as everyone else but you are going to die much earlier, you deserve access to your share of healthcare earlier too?

2: Unmet need

Māori face barriers in accessing healthcare services, leading to delays in receiving appropriate treatment according to the ongoing 'Māori Standards of Health' report.

Prioritising Māori for surgery is expected to narrow the gap created by systemic barriers that restrict equal access for Māori.

1: Te Tiriti o Waitangi

The New Zealand government has a commitment to equitable participation in healthcare for Māori through Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Don't like that? Well te Tiriti, is a legal commitment in Aotearoa.

To think governments on either side of the political isle do this stuff out of the goodness of their hearts may be giving politicians too much credit.

They do this stuff because they're told, not addressing it, would be illegal.

So what of the favouritism and discrimination discussed on talkback and sections of the media and medical fields today?

The fact is, discrimination does exist in the healthcare system of Aotearoa, it has for years, it just seems to favour Pākehā.

Where are the politicians and spin doctors whining about that?

* Reports on Health disparities in Aotearoa
"Hauora: Māori Standards of Health IV" (Ministry of Health, 2012): This report focuses on Māori health and provides an overview of health disparities between Māori and non-Māori. It explores various determinants of health, including socioeconomic factors, cultural determinants, lifestyle factors, and access to healthcare, which can contribute to health inequalities.
"Whakamaua: Māori Health Action Plan 2020-2025" (Ministry of Health, 2020): This action plan outlines the New Zealand government's strategies to improve Māori health outcomes. It acknowledges historical and contemporary factors such as colonization, systemic racism, and socioeconomic disparities as key contributors to health inequities.
"Te Ohonga Ake The Health Status of Māori Children and Young People in New Zealand Series 2" (University of Otago, 2018): This report examines the health status of Māori children and young people. It highlights social determinants of health, including poverty, housing conditions, and access to education, as factors that significantly impact Māori health outcomes.
"Unequal Impact II: Māori and Non-Māori Cancer Statistics by Deprivation and Rural-Urban Status" (University of Otago, 2016): This study explores cancer statistics among Māori and non-Māori populations in New Zealand. It highlights the influence of socioeconomic factors, including deprivation and rural-urban disparities, on cancer outcomes and access to cancer care.