Although the Minister of Health Hon Andrew Little had his travel plans to conference skuppered by some outrageously strong Wellington winds, his messages during the opening address were clear; we are in the midst of a period of extraordinary pressure on our health system, GPs are bearing the brunt of COVID-19 and the myriad of issues it creates and we are undergoing significant change as we try to steer the waka towards more effective and equitable outcomes.
An address via a huge digital screen does take some of the polish off a political speech, and the opening to GP22: the Conference for General Practitioners was not immune to the occasional awkward glitch or technical mishap. However, amidst the reminders of what the Labour government has delivered, and the promises of what is yet to come, Mr Little repeatedly acknowledged the difficulties of the environment we are currently working in as well as the need to address the gaps in the system that the pandemic has highlighted.
Clearly, there is no silver bullet for the issues GPs are facing, such as; the increase in patient complexity, the waiting lists, the staff shortages, the extreme fatigue we are all facing and the burden that places on both GPs and their families, not to mention a winter flu season that has outstripped even the most dire predictions.
Minister Little also acknowledged that our system does not perform well on equity and said that we must improve this. “We have an obligation not only to face the problems but to fix them.”
But what does this mean, and how will it be achieved? Minister Little endorsed enabling access to healthcare for more people, using communities as the first ports of call and building a Māori and Pasifika workforce to address the imbalance of a lack of representation within the sector. He also discussed reaching into the communities that are currently excluded from access to local practice.
Te Aka Whai Ora – The Māori Health Authority is perhaps the first bold step towards realising this vision of equity. However, any model for future equity needs the input of the industry.
“You see what is needed every day. We need you engaged in determing the shape of future health. It won’t be perfect. Working together, stronger together - we can build a better health system for everyone.”