Media statement – Cultural Competence, Partnership and Health Equity: Professional Obligations Towards Māori Health Improvement

The Medical Council today called on doctors to work in partnership with Māori and address the issues of inequity they face in the health system.  Council chairman, Mr Andrew Connolly says cultural competence and genuine partnership with Māori are important aspects of achieving excellence in medical practice.  Both cultural competence and partnership improve our understanding and knowledge of our patients and allow us to consider inequities in patient care and patient outcomes and inform ways to address these.

In doing so we improve the care we provide and therefore improve patient and population health outcomes.’  ‘A particular focus of Council’s cultural competence standards is on best practices when providing care to Māori patients and their whānau.  Today, nearly 10 years since the publication of the Council’s standards on cultural competence many health statistics continue to highlight the poorer outcomes that Māori experience compared to other groups.  

Mr Connolly says, ‘Council sees health inequities as unacceptable and from this arise professional and moral obligations to address inequity.  ‘It is now timely to re-emphasise the Council’s expectations of the profession to be culturally competent and to outline expectations around the profession’s engagement and partnership with Māori organisations and healthcare providers.’

Māori engagement with, and representation at, all levels within the health sector is vital to improving Māori health outcomes.  Māori doctors have historically advocated strongly on behalf of Māori and worked to break down barriers experienced by Māori patients in accessing the health system. This continues with today’s Māori medical students and doctors and extends far beyond any one clinical consultation.

‘As a profession, one significant way we can help improve equity is by supporting Māori doctors in their advocacy and leadership roles within the profession and in society. It is encouraging to see this year for the first time, demographic proportionality has been achieved, with the number of Māori students entering medical school proportionate to the Māori population. The challenge is ensuring that this proportionality will in turn continue throughout all layers of health organisations.’ Mr Connolly said.

Whilst the determinants of equity are broader than health alone, there are also important considerations for institutions involved in health care.  The Council Mr Connolly says is also advocating that medical colleges  work with Māori doctors to highlight the cultural demands upon them and to ensure where relevant that college decisions help address inequity.  ‘Vocational colleges are strong advocates and supporters of their fellowship and we are encouraging all colleges to review how they can support their Māori fellowship in the wider roles these doctors are expected to perform.’

District health boards (DHBs) have a crucial responsibility to support Māori patients and their whānau. Māori cultural support services are well established in most DHBs and Council, through our oversight of intern training, places particular importance on these services, especially in relation to their support of interns in developing cultural competence.

Mr Connolly said, ‘The Council believes all doctors and health organisations have a professional and moral responsibility to work to eliminating such inequities in partnership with Māori through genuine representation and participation’.

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