The involvement of consumers at all levels of health policy decision making is now an accepted practice in the New Zealand health sector and has been part of the move towards patient-centred health care. The inclusion of health consumers in decision-making and/or governance has had a number of drivers including growing awareness of the social determinants of health, inquiries such as the Cartwright Inquiry that exposed abuses of patient rights, and health and disability consumer movements that have demanded such involvement.1 A major argument for involving consumers in decision making and/or governance is that it helps to improve the quality of health care through more responsive and acceptable services. There is some strong evidence that this is the case, particularly for mental health services.2Evidence also shows that consumer participation is most effective when consumers are aligned with consumer organisations from whom they can draw support and a wide range of views, and to whom they are accountable.3 In New Zealand there are a number of national health and disability consumer groups organised around specific conditions (eg. breast cancer) and population groups. There are also a number of national and regional consumer reference or advisory groups attached to government or other health sector agencies. What New Zealand currently lacks is a national consumer organisation, like the Consumer Forum of Australia, to lead and coordinate consumer participation in the health and disability sector.4Women’s Health Action has long argued for more consumer involvement in the New Zealand health sector and has represented health consumers in a wide range of health sector forums over the past three decades. We participate in health services audits, external and internal reviews of services, service improvement projects, and sit on a range of governance groups and advisory committees. We have also played a significant role in three major health service inquiries: the Cervical Cancer Inquiry (Cartwright Inquiry) into the treatment of women with cervical abnormalities at National Women’s Hospital (1987-88); the Baby Physiotherapy Inquiry into injuries and deaths among pre-term neonates at National Women’s Hospital; and the Gisborne Inquiry into under-reporting of women’s cervical smears (2000).
Consumer representation roles
Women’s Health Action’s consumer representation roles currently include:
- National Project Advisory Group, Ministry of Health Healthy Start Workforce Development Project
- Auckland District Health Board Women’s Clinical Governance Group
- Auckland District Health Board Maternity Quality and Safety Operational Clinical Governance Group
- Auckland District Health Board Postnatal Pathways Steering Group
- Waitemata District Health Board/Auckland District Health Board Women’s Health Collaboration Group
- New Zealand College of Midwives Auckland Regional Committee
- Asian Women and Family Trust
1 Coney, S. 2004. ‘Effective consumer voice and participation for New Zealand: A systematic review of the evidence’, New Zealand Guidelines Group.
Literature review and report on consumer participation in the health sector » In 2004, Sandra Coney, WHA co founder, was commissioned by the New Zealand Guidelines Group (now disbanded) to undertake a literature review and produce a report on consumer participation in the health sector. The report is a comprehensive review of the evidence in support of consumer participation and how it can be most effective.
Health Quality and Safety Commission » For a directory of consumer organisations and information about the commission’s consumer engagement activities.
Consumers Health Forum of Australia » The peak organisation providing leadership in representing the interests of Australian healthcare consumers.