Hopes and doubts as health system overhaul kicks in

Source: 1News

As health and disability services go through a major overhaul, 1News takes an in-depth look at what's changing and why.

The biggest change to our health system in 20 years is set to kick off at midnight, but as the sector faces increasing strain, critics are questioning whether now is the best time for a change.

On Friday, July 1, two brand new entities will be at the helm of our health system and the days of the country’s 20 district health boards will be over.

Health Overhaul, the full series:

READ MORE: DHBs gone by end of week - what it means for you

READ MORE: New disability ministry to launch - is it ready?

READ MORE: High hopes for NZ's biggest health shake-up in 20 years

The change will cost $500 million and will see regional DHBs replaced by Health NZ and the Māori Health Authority, entities based in Wellington.

It’s hoped that the centralised systems will end the so-called "postcode lottery" that delivers varied wait times and access to healthcare region-to-region.

The Māori Health Authority is tasked with better outcomes for Māori who, along with Pasifika, have less access to care and a shortened life expectancy of up to 10 years.

Health and disability services will also go through a major overhaul, with the new Ministry for Disabled People taking over disability funding that until now, sat with the Ministry of Health.

But the with the health sector currently understaffed and the 83,000 employees under stress while it still feels the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti questions the timing of the reforms.

Health workers.

"Anyone who does project management knows you need to start with some degree of stability before you can institute successful change."

"A good time is not a time when people are dying. Not a time when the health workforce shortage is a crisis.

"When GPs are broken… when EDs (emergency departments) are broken."

But Health Minister Andrew Little believes "there's never going to be an ideal time to make the change".

"Once we committed to change as we did in April last year we really then just had to get on with it."

Little said the first improvements would be seen in two years.

"What you'll start to see is that people will have the hospital system better staffed up.

"For people needing treatment like cancer treatments for example… I think you'll see much greater consistency across the country."

But Counties Manukau DHB interim chief executive Dr Pete Watson is less optimistic.

"I think it'll take a long, long time.

"I personally think this is a journey of a decade or more of transformation… it can take that length of time before you get through a change programme of such magnitude."

The reforms will be ushered in with a dawn ceremony at Waitangi where the Māori names of our two new health entities will be revealed.