Health sector 'inherently racist' to Māori says cancer survivor

A Māori cancer survivor claims the health sector is inherently racist towards Māori patients and is calling for a change in workforce cultural competency to save more lives.

Cancer survivor Jo Stafford (Ngāti Rārua, Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Tama) says the health sector needs a shake-up.

"It's inherently racist, it's designed for a non-Māori audience, it was designed for a non-Māori patient so the big ticket item for us, for me in particular, is workforce cultural competency."

Stafford, who works as a Māori representative for Central Cancer Network says he's seen many examples of unconscious bias, a major barrier for Māori seeking treatment.

"The [easiest] example to demonstrate is the mispronunciation of Māori names when you go to see your GP and the impact that that has on the whānau, on the patient themselves- we've got to be giving our Māori patients a positive experience to keep them inside the system."

According to the Ministry of Health, total cancer mortality rates for Māori adults are 1.5 times as high as non-Māori. 

"It's unconscious bias. So it's about when a GP is presented with a Pākeha or a Māori to be considering the inequity by making the Māori patient wait an extra month to be seen, it's as simple as that."

Professor Diana Sarfati from the University of Otago has done extensive research on ethnic inequalities in New Zealand cancer outcomes, debunking theories that link Māori mortality rates to poverty.

"We really need to have a plan and we really need to be putting equity front and centre and then we've got a good chance of reducing inequalities and we're aiming to eliminate inequalities."

This week cancer experts and health professionals from across the country will be discussing inequalities at the Cancer Care at a Crossroads Conference in Wellington.