World Health Day – health for all still not a shared experience, says Commissioner

The Health and Disability Commissioner says this year’s theme for World Health Day - health for all – is highly relevant in the context of the recognised health inequities for some populations in Aotearoa, and well as the equity focus of recent health system reform.

The World Health Organization was established 75 years ago based on the principle that everyone has the right to the highest attainable standard of health.

Morag McDowell says the Code of Health and Disability Service Consumers’ Rights gives everyone using health and disability services the right to an appropriate standard of care that meets their needs and upholds their dignity and mana in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“Everyone should be treated as a partner in their care, and it’s important to remember there are many thousands of positive interactions in the health and disability system every day.”

“However the complaints that cross my desk highlight the inequities that persist. A number of our complaints point to people’s concerns about discriminatory attitudes and approaches, and failures by people and services to act in a culturally safe way."

“Complaints also highlight the significant impact that a failure by providers to engage people, and their whanau appropriately in their care, has on their understanding of the care provided, and on health outcomes.”

Ms McDowell says HDC is focusing on strengthening its ability to recognise and respond effectively to Māori complainants and complaints with a cultural dimension, and on improving outcomes for Māori in the health and disability system.

“Our Kaitohu Matamua, Māori (Director Māori) has supported HDC to increase our internal cultural knowledge and competence and introduced a number of initiatives to improve the cultural responsiveness of our complaints process. We will continue to look for opportunities to improve our processes for Māori.”

She says her office is also supporting providers to develop a greater understanding of their obligations under the Code and how to apply them in their day to day practice with the development of online learning modules.

Ms McDowell is pleased to see that in the four months since these modules were developed over 2600 providers have registered to improve their understanding of the Code. This reflects, in part, the commitment of providers in New Zealand to upholding the Code.

She acknowledges that the health and disability system is currently under pressure with complaints to HDC increasing significantly in recent years.

“Where appropriate, I am focused on local and timely resolution of complaints. Effective timely resolution of complaints directly between provider and consumer can strengthen relationships and increase the usefulness of quality improvement measures.”

“I will continue to work with agencies across the health and disability sector to take collective action to improve equity of health outcomes, and advocate for a people-centered system where the rights of all people using health and disability services are understood, upheld and protected."