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Patients who do not show up for medical appointments are costing the West Coast District Health Board more than $400,000 a year.
And the DHB is worried that a disproportionate number of those patients are Maori.
Chairman Rick Barker has vowed to make a difference to the health of tangata whenua on the Coast.
At the DHB Health Advisory Committee meeting last week, members heard Maori non-attendance rates at outpatient clinics across the country were typically twice that of non-Maori.
Last year the monthly figures showed between 8% and 19% of West Coast Maori patients failed to show up for appointments.
But last month, Maori 'did-not-attends' (DNAs) surged to a high of 34% of all patients.
Mr Barker agreed. "If people don't attend, it's not because they have found a miracle cure. Is there anything we can do?"
The consequence for Maori was compromised health, and the consequence for the DHB was that scarce resources, such as specialist and nursing time were wasted, Maori health manager Gary Coghlan said in his report.
"The estimated cost of each DNA is between $262 to $412, and based on total DNAs reported in 2019, (Maori and non-Maori) the cost to the West Coast DHB was in excess of $400,000."
The Hauora Maori team was now looking at a 'whole of system' approach to the problem, Mr Coghlan said.
"We had a valuable korero with the central booking unit management and staff and heard the challenges they face and ways they have tried to improve DNA rates for vulnerable populations."
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Coghlan told the Greymouth Star the 34% increase on DNAs last month looked alarming but the actual figures involved were small, with so many clinics reduced by Covid restrictions.
"But it is a problem and one that all DHBs are trying to deal with," he said.
There were many reasons Maori on the Coast were not showing up for outpatient appointments, Mr Coghlan said.
"The barriers in a rural area for everyone are transport, and phone and internet connections; and sometimes it's fear of what you might hear. But the consequences for Maori were often more serious because they tended to present late with symptoms.
"If you are staring down the barrel of something serious, and Maori generally don't fare as well health-wise, sometimes you just don't want to hear any more bad news."
One option might be to offer Maori patients a support person to go with them to appointments, as a guide or navigator, he said.
On a more positive note, more West Coast Maori women were taking the opportunity of breast screening, Mr Coghlan reported.
The Breastscreening Mobile Unit was up and running again operating at about 50% capacity for safety reasons, as soon as Covid restrictions allowed.
In Westport, 18 of the 80 tests were for Maori and one for Pacifika, and in Greymouth, eight of the 16 screens were for Maori, which was a great result, he said.
The clinics had been targeting Maori and Pasifika women, and the Poutini Ngai Tahu-owned Maori health provider Poutini Waiora provided support, and worked in collaboration with the team from Breastscreen South.
The equity plan in place was producing consistent improvement in screening uptake by Maori women, Mr Coghlan said.
Maori make up an estimated 14% of the population in the West Coast region.
- By Lois Williams
Local democracy reporter