New Zealand's Maori have substantial disadvantages in health status compared with the majority population, who are principally of British migrant origin. For example, life expectancy at birth is about 8.5 years lower than for non-Maori individuals. Although hospital care is available free of charge in New Zealand, quality of care can differ between ethnic groups. Whether these differences affect indigenous groups has not been known until now.
Peter Davis (Department of Sociology, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand) and colleagues analysed admissions to general public hospitals in New Zealand. They selected a representative sample of 6579 patients admitted in 1998 to 13 hospitals. They found that Maori patients had a higher risk of preventable adverse events in hospital than patients of non-Maori origin, suggesting that Maori were more likely to receive suboptimum care. 14% of admissions for Maori were associated with an adverse event, compared with 11% for non-Maori populations, even after the researchers made allowances for age, the illnesses for which they were admitted, and sociodemographic factors. The researchers could not identify a cause for the disparity since the same broad pattern of problems characterised preventable adverse events for both Maori and non-Maori. The authors suggest a continuation of current moves in New Zealand to raise the quality of care and improve the responsiveness of health services to the special needs of Maori.
Professor Davis states: "Despite a predominately publicly funded hospital system, our findings suggest that hospital care received by Maori is marginally poorer than that received by New Zealand citizens of non-Maori/non-Pacific origin."