Today’s government announcements on the first steps towards a major restructuring of the health and disability systems have been broadly welcomed by Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero.
Health Secretary Andrew Little outlined plans for implementing the Health and Disability Review Recommendations published last June. The announcements recognized that Māori, Pacific communities, disabled people and other communities were not being well served by the current health and disability system.
Ms. Tesoriero said she was pleased to hear that the existing system had not served disabled people well. “Last year, about one in five (21.5 percent) disabled adults said they didn’t see a family doctor for cost reasons, compared with 12.7 percent of non-disabled adults according to the New Zealand Health Survey,” she said.
The announcements included the creation of a new Crown Unit, Health NZ, which will replace the District Health Boards to commission health services across the country. Health NZ will consist of four regional departments and a number of district offices.
“The choice of people to strategize and steer Health NZ will be critical to ensuring equity. The detail of how communities – including communities of people with disabilities – influence local, regional and national health care planning will be crucial, “said Tesoriero.
“Given the high prevalence of disability among Māori, I applaud the focus on improving health for both Tangata Whaikaha and Pacific communities. Part of improving health will be a well-integrated health system, ”said Tesoriero.
Disability is not a specific health problem. Society presents barriers for disabled people to lead full, dignified lives – such as inaccessible buildings and homes – which in turn have significant implications for the health and wellbeing of disabled people.
“The government has indicated that further work is being carried out in the specific area of support services for the disabled. The announcements are expected in September. It is comforting that this work involves disabled people and is guided by the principles of a good life, ”she said.
Disabled people’s leadership will be vital to ensuring that the changes that are put in place address the inequalities and inaccessibility that disabled people face in health and disability services, she said.
The lack of involvement of disabled people in the review itself had compromised people’s confidence in the report and its recommendations. It is therefore important that the voices of disabled people are heard now in the implementation phase.
Ms. Tesoriero said: “People with disabilities have the right to enjoy the highest possible standard of health without discrimination. We still have a long way to go in New Zealand to fully realize this right and I hope today’s announcements pave the way for it. “
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