Announcements today by the Government on the first steps towards a major restructure of the health and disability system have been broadly welcomed by the Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero.
Minister of Health Andrew Little outlined plans for the implementation of the Health and Disability Review recommendations published in June last year. The announcements acknowledged that Māori, Pacific communities, disabled people and other communities had not been well served by the current health and disability system.
Ms Tesoriero said she was pleased to hear recognition that the existing system has not served disabled people well. “Last year around one in five (21.5 percent) disabled adults reported not visiting a GP due to cost, compared to 12.7 percent of non-disabled adults according to the New Zealand Health Survey,” she said.
Included in the announcements was the formation of a new crown entity, Health NZ, which will replace District Health Boards to commission health services for the whole country. Health NZ will be made up of four regional divisions and a range of district offices.
“How people are selected to provide strategic direction and governance to Health NZ will be critical to ensuring equity. The detail on how communities – including disabled people’s communities – will influence local, regional and national planning of health care will be crucial,” Ms Tesoriero said.
“Given the high prevalence of disability among Māori, I welcome the focus on improving health for tangata whaikaha, as well as for Pacific communities. Part of improving health will be a well-integrated health system,” Ms Tesoriero said.
Disability is not specifically a health issue. Society places barriers in the way of disabled people living full, dignified lives – such as inaccessible buildings and housing – which in turn has a significant impact on the health and well-being of disabled people.
“The Government has indicated that more work is being done in the specific area of disability support services with announcements expected in September. It is reassuring that this work involves disabled people and is informed by the Enabling Good Lives Principles” she said.
Leadership by disabled people will be crucial to ensuring the changes being put into motion address the inequalities and inaccessibility disabled people face in health and disability services, she said.
The lack of involvement of disabled people in the review itself had affected people’s confidence in the report and its recommendations, so it is critical that the voices of disabled people are heard now in the implementation stage.
Ms Tesoriero said, “Disabled people have the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health without discrimination. We have a long way to go in New Zealand to fully realise this right and I hope today’s announcements pave the way to do this.”