Maori children suffer health treatment inequalities: study

MARIKA HILL
Last updated 05:00 05/08/2012

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Economists have proven it's cheaper to let Maori children die than spend money to provide equitable health treatment.

Maori children have some of the worst health outcomes in the country.

They make significantly fewer outpatient calls to hospitals, visit the doctor less, make fewer ACC claims, have fewer drugs prescribed, and undergo fewer lab tests than other groups.

Auckland University researchers say the health sector would "save" almost $25 million by doing nothing to improve the children's health outcomes, calculated on an annual basis.

There is no suggestion those involved in the study advocate such a position, and Northland doctor Clair Mills, who worked on the study, said the research found the social and long-term economic implications of doing nothing would be a far greater burden on the country to carry.

“The facts around inequities in child health of Maori are not new. It is the persistent ugly outcome of the whole way our society operates.

"But what we wanted to do was challenge the idea that addressing this costs too much, by looking at what it would cost us to do nothing.”

The public health physician said 67 Maori children died avoidable deaths every year, costing taxpayers $200 million annually.

More than half those deaths were in the first 12 months of a baby's life.

“As a developed country we're still seeing a situation where there are huge inequalities, and as a civilised country we should be ensuring the rights of children are respected,” she said.

“Economically, it makes no sense to ignore those inequalities.”

The recently published study - also researched by economist Dr Rhema Vaithianathan and health academic Dr Papaarangi Reid - showed Maori children were twice as likely to die from treatable conditions and almost 30 per cent more likely to be admitted to hospital.

If Maori rates could be brought in line with the broader population, there would be 3075 fewer hospital admissions.

Mills said not addressing inequality resulted in long-term health and social costs, such as missed education, unemployment, grief and suffering.

She did not believe the health sector chose the cheaper option of doing nothing, rather that it was often seen as easier to carry on with the status quo.

Mills encounters various preventable cases in Northland, including rheumatic fever, which could permanently damage the heart, or prove fatal.

Treating a sore throat in the early stages could prevent what was seen as a third-world disease.

Other avoidable health problems included sudden infant death, also known as cot death, respiratory illnesses, and injuries.

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Greater government spending on primary care and other key interventions could help resolve the problem, she said, with the study suggesting greater investment in interventions, including housing improvements, immunisations and healthcare access, made long-term economic sense.

MAORI HEALTH CARE INEQUALITIES

15,376 ‘excess' avoidable hospital admissions for children from 2003 to 2007.

36 per cent of hospitalisations ‘potentially avoidable'.

Young Maori accessed doctors less often than non-Maori.

harmaceutical claims for non-Maori children 15 per cent higher.

Non-Maori laboratory claims 55 per cent higher than Maori.

ACC claims for Maori children 32 per cent lower than non-Maori, and median cost lower.

Specialist hospital visits 86 per cent lower than non-Maori children.

- Sunday Star Times

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