Enough is enough

The Herald reports:

Auckland surgeons are now being required to consider a patient’s ethnicity alongside other factors when deciding who should get an operation first.

Several surgeons say they are upset by the policy, which was introduced in Auckland in February and gave priority to Māori and Pacific Island patients – on the grounds that they have historically had unequal access to healthcare. …

Some surgeons, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the new scoring tool was medically indefensible. They said patients should be prioritised on how sick they were, how urgently they needed treatment, and how long they had been waiting for it – not on their ethnicity.

One of the surgeons said he was “disgusted” by the new ranking system.

“It’s ethically challenging to treat anyone based on race, it’s their medical condition that must establish the urgency of the treatment,” the surgeon said.

The surgeons are right. Surgical priority should be based on clinical need, now whether one of your great great grandparents was of a particular race.

There can be times when group characteristics (such as ethnicity) need to be taken into account because you don’t have individual data. But this is not the case with surgical waiting lists. They have full health information on each individual, and there is absolutely no need to introduce group characteristics into it.

An email by Te Whatu Ora business support manager Daniel Hayes in April said: “Hi team, Heads up. This is going to be the new criteria for outsourcing your patients going forward. Just putting this on your radar now so that you can begin to line up patients accordingly. Over 200 days for Māori and Pacific patients. Over 250 days for all other patients.”

So someone who is sicker and more likely to die if untreated may have to wait 50 days longer for surgery, because they had the wrong ancestors.

Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said when it came to prioritising healthcare, there were important reasons why ethnicity was a factor.

She pointed to the Government-commissioned, independent review of the health system in 2018, which found the system did not serve everyone well and produced unequal outcomes, particularly for vulnerable populations.

Using this logic, the Government could justify the following policies:

  • A tax rate of 30% for Maori and Pacific taxpayers and 33% for everyone else, on the basis of unequal income outcomes.
  • A school starting age of 5 for Maori and Pacific children and 7 for everyone else, on the basis of unequal educational outcomes.

If you have no values or principles, then you can justify any amount of discrimination on the basis of unequal outcomes.

It is manifestly wrong that someone with a greater clinical need for surgery should be made to wait longer than someone with a lesser clinical need, because of who their ancestors are.

If you want a reason to change the Government in October, this is it.

Don’t just accept this change to our health system. E-mail your local Government MP and tell them you do not support this. Turn up to public meetings and challenge them on this. Support organisations that will campaign against this.

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