The era of economic reform in the 1980s was also a pivotal moment in the history of New Zealand’s health system. There was a growing sense of the need for change, rethinking and policy innovation. By 1980, 50 per cent of New Zealanders had some form of private health insurance – what did this mean for the universal health care system implemented in 1938? The new Labour Government coming to office in 1984 inherited the Area Health Boards Act from the outgoing National Government, with implications for organising health services. As well as the gradual establishment of area health boards from 1983, focal points of debate were the 1986 Health Benefits Review and the 1988 Gibbs Report (‘Unshackling the Hospitals’). Out of this ferment came the more radical health reforms of the early 1990s as well as the establishment of PHARMAC. The 1980s was also a time when Māori were continuing to exert their right to tino rangtiratanga (sovereignty) and there was growing acknowledgement by politicians that this needed to be reflected in policy.
The aim of this seminar was to capture and record the experience of participants, including politicians, civil servants, the voluntary sector, health providers and activists, to illuminate key aspects of New Zealand’s health politics of the time. Given the ongoing salience of many of the issues debated at the time, we were concerned to identify factors that accelerated or inhibited major change. This seminar forms part of a wider project on the New Zealand health system and the UK’s NHS and the connections between the reforms proposed and implemented in both systems as well as the exchange of ideas.
The meeting was jointly convened by Prof Martin Gorsky and Dr Hayley Brown of the Centre for History in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Prof Linda Bryder of the University of Auckland.
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It was supported by a Wellcome Trust grant 106720/Z/15/Z.