Two senior Cabinet Ministers have slammed the Ministry of Health for dragging the chain on releasing individual Māori data to the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency. And now the dispute is headed back to court, writes political editor Jo Moir.
Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson has gone head to head with the Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, over his refusal to release full contact details for unvaccinated Māori in the North Island.
The Ministry of Health turned down the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency’s request for the information, which it says would help make a dent in the thousands of unvaccinated Māori across a number of regions.
The agency’s chief executive John Tamihere took the case to the High Court.
On November 1 it ruled the ministry needed to reconsider its decision not to release the data.
Following a review, the ministry again turned down the request on Friday night, with Bloomfield instead saying it was open to sharing some data where appropriate.
“It’s gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.’’
– John Tamihere, Whānau Ora
On Wednesday Jackson described the situation as a “disgrace” and said his position hadn’t changed since his interview with Newsroom a week earlier.
“I haven’t changed, I still think it should happen. I’ve made that very clear, and I’m disappointed it hasn’t happened.”
Jackson told Newsroom he’d spoken directly to Bloomfield and made his view on the matter clear.
“Dr Bloomfield does what Dr Bloomfield does, I suppose.’’
“I just disagree with what they’re doing at the moment,’’ he said.
The case is set to return to court after Tamihere told Newsroom new litigation was being filed on Wednesday night.
“It’s gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.’’
Tamihere is in Northland, working alongside staff taking part in a vaccine drive with mobile clinics to try to improve the Māori vaccination rates in the region.
“We’re in Kaitaia where thousands of dollars has been spent blasting every radio station in the Far North hour by hour that we are here.
“Luckily 425 people came to clinics in one day – it’s an outstanding result for a team that has come up from Tamaki Makaurau.
“But I know we could have done 2000 today, because we have the capacity to do so and there are 2000 outstanding Māori here to get vaccinated.’’
Without the specific data and contact details Tamihere said it was a huge challenge.
There are 1900 unvaccinated Māori in Hokianga, but Tamihere and his team were only able to reach 150 this week.
He blames that on not having the details to go door to door.
“We’re obliged to go back to the High Court because what happens when boosters come out and the under-12s need to be vaxxed?’’
Māori vaccination rates are 21 percent behind the general rate.
Health Minister Andrew Little said his expectation would have been that the ministry sorted this before it ended up in court.
“I’d rather be dealing with a whole bunch of privacy complaints after the fact if it means that we get our vaccination programme going as we need it to go.”
– Andrew Little, Health Minister
“The High Court made it clear that we’re in an emergency situation. We need to rapidly and drastically get Māori vaccination levels up.
“The commissioning agency is equipped to do that and need the information to do that. We should be facilitating access to it and I hope the ministry is,’’ he told Newsroom.
Some months ago, Little made it clear to his department officials that he’d “rather be dealing with a whole bunch of privacy complaints after the fact if it means that we get our vaccination programme going as we need it to go’’.
Little told Newsroom the court process was a “waste of time’’ for all involved.
He isn’t entirely across everything Tamihere had asked for in his initial request that was declined but said the High Court ruling “was pretty clear the court expected some further disclosure, and if that hasn’t happened that’s extraordinarily disappointing’’.
Asked whether it was time to throw every resource possible at Māori vaccination, Little didn’t hesitate.
“I would have thought so at nearly mid-November … with vaccination levels where they are – Northland in particular – we need to be doing everything we can.”
“He’s the bloody Minister of Health, what a shambles.” – Chris Bishop
The last update Little received from Bloomfield was that discussions were underway with the commissioning agency.
“I took from that briefing that additional and new information would be released that would go as far as possible to meeting the commissioning agency’s needs.’’
Little has previously told Newsroom some DHBs, such as Taranaki and Tairāwhiti, were failing Māori in the way they had responded to the vaccination programme.
National’s Covid Response spokesperson, Chris Bishop, told Newsroom he was completely baffled by Little’s truthbombs.
“He’s the bloody Minister of Health, what a shambles.
“Just make it happen,’’ Bishop said.