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Health debate needs cool heads

During the past 10 days we’ve been inundated with cries of protest over the government disbanding the Maori Health Authority.

There was a Hui at Turangawaewae, where 10,000 people debated, among other issues, the disbanding of the authority.

The media were slavish in their support for the talkfest. It is to the credit of the Times-Age that it stuck to the facts.

We were told there were 10,000 people, both Maori and non-Maori, who attended the event, and they were unanimous in their support. The reality is that 10,000 people are but 1 per cent of the Maori population, so with additional non-Maori attendees it is not, in my view, statistically significant.

The issue for me is that health is in crisis in New Zealand and it is a national problem and not a racial one.

Having said that, my experience of the health system here in the Wairarapa has been good. I realise if a person moves here, they’re not going to have automatic access to a health provider, but they will be looked after if the situation warrants.

Yes, on occasion, I’d like to see my doctor rather than one who is available, but I have no criticism of either the service or the expertise of the medical staff.

That is a shining light compared with much of rural New Zealand.

The issue for me is that diabetes, for example, is a national issue. It affects everyone regardless of race. Certainly, some races are more affected than others, but it is diabetes that is the problem and not just race.

Further, we have been inundated over the last few years with all the problems of maintaining a health service in rural New Zealand. It is, in the words of the medical profession, worse than a crisis. Many GPs are past retirement age, and recruiting qualified medical staff in the provinces hasn’t been easy.

We have additional issues in the provinces. We have diseases our city cousins don’t get, such as leptospirosis and, according to the University of Otago research in rural areas, ‘we die at higher rates than those living in the urban centres’.

I could develop an argument that would justify a Rural Health Authority, but I won’t. We need just one well-funded, well-resourced entity for the entire country.

Interestingly, whereas Maori make up 17 per cent of the population, rural NZ isn’t far behind at 14 per cent, so one could humbly suggest we need a much bigger slice of the pie.

And creating another health bureaucracy is, in my view, crazy. The resources are needed on the front line and not in the back rooms.

The debate has become farcical with the Waitangi Tribunal granting an application for an urgent inquiry into government plans to disestablish the Maori Health Authority.

All three of the political parties now in coalition went into the election promising to abolish the authority. The majority of NZ voted for those parties.

To then suggest another authority can overrule the democratic process is somewhat arrogant in my opinion.

Another issue is that since the election, the debates on both sides have been divisive and emotive and that we don’t need.

What is required are cool heads who can move the debate forward in a factual, unemotive manner.

In my opinion, that would exclude both Tuku Morgan and David Seymour.

    Alan Emerson is a semi-retired writer, farmer and businessman living in Wairarapa. He writes a weekly column for Farmers Weekly and has written and/or edited five books.


  1. We should never have allowed a divided health system to start. We are one health system for all New Zealanders 🙏. We need to get away from systems and policies that divided us.We are strong 💪 as ONE.

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