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NEW ZEALAND: Surgeons Will Be Forced To Prioritize Operations Based On Patient Ethnicity

Jack Hadfield

Doctors in Auckland, New Zealand will now be forced to prioritize operations and vital health services based on the ethnicity of their patients. The policy, which was introduced in February of this year, is now being rolled out amongst other regions on the notoriously progressive country’s North Island.

An Equity Adjustor Score will compute the ethnicity of the patient along with other factors, such as their socioeconomic background and geographic location, in order to determine how long they have to wait for treatment. Māori and Pasifika people are at the top of the list with the shortest waiting times, while European New Zealanders as well as Indian and Chinese New Zealanders are ranked lower in priority.

According to an April email seen by the New Zealand Herald from a Health New Zealand business manager, a person of European, Asian, or Indian heritage could wait for surgery up to 50 days longer than a Māori person.

Officials have stated that Indigenous New Zealanders are being given priority in order to address historical inequities within the healthcare system.

“The reformed health system seeks to address inequities for Māori and Pacific people who historically have a lower life expectancy and poor health outcomes,” said Health Minister Ayesha Verrall on the new system.

However, a number of surgeons have come out anonymously and slammed the policy, objecting to the orders to rank patients by their heritage. The ethics of the system are already being called into question and some surgeons are labeling the ethnic ranking system as medically indefensible.

“It’s ethically challenging to treat anyone based on race, it’s their medical condition that must establish the urgency of the treatment,” one surgeon said, who told the New Zealand Herald that he was “disgusted” by the new system. “There’s no place for elitism in medicine and the medical fraternity in this country is disturbed by these developments.”

Other surgeons anonymously speaking to the press have asserted that patients must be prioritized based on medical need and how urgently they require treatment, not on their heritage.

David Seymour, the leader of the classical liberal ACT party, said on Monday that it was “completely wrong” to include a patient’s racial makeup in the decision operative process.

“We’ve got a government that is actually actively promoting racial discrimination now and it’s got to stop,” Seymour said. “The advantage of doing it based on the practical observation of the patient, not just categorizing people by race, is you don’t catch people who happen to be Māori but actually doing very well thank you very much. We’ve got to stop running people down just because they’re Māori.”

Dr Shane Reti, the spokesman for National, New Zealand’s right-wing opposition party, said the policy was “offensive, wrong and should halt immediately,” adding that they were calling on the government to put an end to it.

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