Understanding health equity – why it matters

News article

29 October 2018

Dr Jill Clendon, Chief Nursing Officer

Everything we do should have an equity lens on it. We need to be thinking about ‘if we do this activity over here, what does that mean for all of these groups in our population – what does this mean for Māori? What does it mean for Pacific? What does it mean for people on low incomes? How can the work that I do as a clinician, as a stakeholder in the health sector, the decisions that I make, the choices that I make around care provision – what does that look like in terms of an equity focus for those populations that need support to achieve the same outcomes as everybody else?’

So in New Zealand we’ve spent a lot of time looking at different definitions of equity from around the world. We wanted to take an approach that was going to give us something that was strengths-based, something that enables us to move forward in the conversations that we’re having around equity.

Those differences that people have in health are ‘not only avoidable but they’re also unfair and unjust’. So equity recognises that ‘different people have different levels of advantage, and that those different levels of advantage may require different approaches and resources to get the same outcomes.’ So that definition helps guide our work, helps guide our discussions, helps enable us as clinicians and as stakeholders in the sector to really focus our work, bring an equity lens to our work and understand the strengths-based approach that we can bring to working with those who have differences in outcomes, who are experiencing challenges around equity and how we can support them.

There are a number of barriers. I believe that one of the biggest barriers is ourselves, and it’s our understanding of what equity is and how we can really work on our own understanding of what equity is and how we can contribute in that space as clinicians.

Every single one of us has the ability to, and should be, working toward achieving equity in New Zealand. That is, every single clinician, every single manager, every single person needs to be thinking about the way they’re working, the way that they’re interacting, the cultural lens that they bring to their work, the strengths-based approach: considering ‘how does every single activity that I do, what actions do I take – how do they impact on the people that I’m working with, and how can I ensure that my activities result in improved equity, improved outcomes for the people that I’m working with?’

So we all absolutely have a role in this, it’s not just about the Ministry of Health having a high level definition of equity. It’s about every single one of us as clinicians, as workers, really working together to ensure that the work we do addresses equity issues.

Acting Chief Nursing Officer Dr Jill Clendon explains how equity needs to be at the heart of health in a new video published on the Ministry of Health website.

As Dr Clendon notes in the video, health equity is about recognising and addressing the fact that different people have different levels of advantage.

‘Those differences people have in health are not only avoidable but are also unfair and unjust.’

The video highlights what equity means in the Aotearoa New Zealand context and how the Ministry’s definition of equity has been developed to reflect and address the country’s health inequities.

‘We need to be thinking about “if we do this activity over here, what does that mean for all of these groups in our population – what does this mean for Māori? What does it mean for Pacific peoples? What does it mean for people on low incomes?”’

Although the video focuses on how clinicians can help improve equity, it also underscores the importance of everyone working towards achieving equity in health, regardless of their role.

The video is part of a series of resources designed to increase people’s understanding of equity. It will be followed by Achieving Equity in Health Outcomes, a soon-to-be-released publication which bringing together concepts from literature from around the world and shines light on how people across the health system can improve health equity.

Take a look at other work at Achieving equity.

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