Poor health outcomes data for disabled New Zealanders linked to years of unmet need

Poor health outcomes data for disabled New Zealanders linked to years of unmet need

November 20, 2020

Just released data on health outcomes for disabled New Zealanders show unacceptable levels of unmet need across the health system which can result in years of lost quality of life and life expectancy, says Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero.  

The 2019/20 New Zealand Health Survey data shows disabled people are experiencing poorer health and identifying cost as a barrier to accessing prescription medication and access to a GP.  

“The data also shows disabled people have much higher levels of psychological distress than non-disabled people which is a real concern.” 

Ms Tesoriero said that whatever decisions are made about where and how disability support services are commissioned: “the response to the Health and Disability Systems Review must place high priority on improving health outcomes for disabled people”. 

“It’s been known for many years that people with intellectual disability have significantly lower life expectancy yet responses have been intermittent with little improvement to show.” (References in note at end of page.)  

“We all have the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and this data shows the system is failing disabled New Zealanders.” 

Other data on wellbeing also released recently highlighted issues for disabled people in dealings across Government systems to do with work, social and economic outcomes. These have also been issues known over a long period of time. 

This is the first time that the data disaggregated by disability has been obtained through the annual survey.  

“It’s dire reading but it is so important that this data is now available so systemic links can be identified and change monitored,” Ms Tesoriero said.  

Data from the 2019/20 New Zealand Health Survey published 19 November shows: 

  • Disabled adults were less likely to have reported ‘good’, ‘very good’, or ‘excellent’ health than non-disabled adults, after adjusting for age and gender. The rates were 56.0 percent and 89.9 percent, respectively. 
  • Around one in five (21.5 percent) disabled adults reported not visiting a GP due to cost, compared to 12.7 percent of non-disabled adults. Disabled adults are 2.3 times as likely to report this, after adjusting for age and gender. 
  • Disabled adults were 3.8 times as likely than non-disabled to be unable to collect a prescription due to cost, after adjusting for age and gender. The rates were 13.0 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively. 
  • Twenty-seven percent of disabled adults experienced psychological distress in the four weeks prior to the survey, compared to 5.7 percent of non-disabled adults. After adjusting for age and gender differences, disabled adults were 6.1 times as likely as non-disabled adults to have experienced psychological distress.   

This data reinforces the disparities disabled people face in many areas of life when looked at together with the “disability gaps” that Stats NZ recently published in its report on inequality. 

“We need to take an integrated approach to improving the determinants of health and equity as well as access to health services,” Ms Tesoriero said. 

Data sources:  

Annual Update of Key Results 2019/20: New Zealand Health Survey

The disability gap 2018

Health Indicators report 2011 noted poorer health for New Zealanders with intellectual disability on a number of measures compared with those without intellectual disability. In particular New Zealanders with intellectual disability had significantly lower life expectancy: 18 years less (for males) and 23 years less (for females) than for all New Zealanders (compared with differentials of 6.8 years and 7.3 years for Māori men and Māori women respectively) Based on data for a different period 2012-2014, cited in ‘The contribution of avoidable mortality to the life expectancy gap in Māori and Pacific populations in New Zealand—a decomposition analysis’ by Michael Walsh, Corina Grey. New Zealand Medical Journal.  March 2019 Vol 132. 19