Auckland surgeons are voicing their dismay with an alarming new policy that mandates considering a patient’s ethnicity when determining surgical priority.
Introduced in February, the policy claims to address “historical disparities in healthcare access” for Māori and Pacific Island communities.
The shocking initiative, implemented by Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand, features an Equity Adjustor Score algorithm that assigns priority based on clinical urgency, waitlist duration, geographic location, ethnicity, and deprivation level.
Māori and Pasifika patients receive higher rankings, while European New Zealanders and other ethnicities are ranked lower.
Speaking anonymously, several surgeons expressed their disagreement with the medically indefensible scoring tool. They argue that patients should be prioritized based on their medical condition, urgency of treatment, and waiting time, rather than their ethnicity.
One surgeon described the new ranking system as “disgusting” and emphasised the importance of treating patients based on their medical needs rather than their race.
Leaked documents obtained by Newstalk ZB revealed that two Māori patients, both aged 62 and waiting for over a year, were ranked higher than other patients on the list. In contrast, a 36-year-old Middle Eastern patient who had been waiting for nearly two years received a much lower priority ranking.
Te Whatu Ora business support manager Daniel Hayes sent an email in April outlining the new criteria for patient outsourcing. The message stated that Māori and Pacific patients should have waited over 200 days, while all other patients should have waited over 250 days. Hayes declined to comment until he could verify the identity of the person contacting him.
Health Minister Ayesha Verrall defended the inclusion of ethnicity as a factor in healthcare prioritisation.
She referred to an independent review of the health system in 2018, which highlighted unequal outcomes and inadequate service provision, particularly for vulnerable populations.
Verrall stated that the health system reforms aimed to address these inequities for Māori and Pacific communities, who historically experienced lower life expectancies and poor health outcomes.