About half of all young Māori children admitted to hospital in Waikato return within six months, a local doctor in charge of a new study says.
The district has 29,000 Māori children, more than any other district health board area in Aotearoa.
Waikato DHB public health physician Dr Nina Scott said most of the diseases were preventable and were caused by poverty and living in poor housing.
"I was really surprised to find a really high number of Māori kids, aged zero to four, being admitted to hospital were actually coming back again within six months," she said.
Dr Scott said the children were often returning with the same conditions.
"Those are usually diseases of poverty like respiratory conditions and skin conditions.
"These things are totally preventable."
Holistic approach in children's assessments
In a bid to reduce readmissions and improve health outcomes, a screening test called 'Harti Hauora Tamariki' was rolled out in Waikato in 2015, to assess the health needs of the children and their whānau.
Nurses asked patients 17 questions and referred them on to appropriate services.
Since then, 5000 tamariki and whānau have been assessed with the new tool.
The Health Research Council has granted Dr Scott $933,000 to fully evaluate the screening test over the next three years.
She said the screening programme was already showing promising results.
"Only about 60 percent of children had immunisation status checks before we put the Harti Hauora Tamariki tool in place, but with it now in place it is almost 100 percent."
Waikato University associate professor Polly Atatoa-Carr, who is helping with the study, said the mainstream system did not help everyone.
"So if we can make that system more effective, particularly for tamariki Māori and their whānau, then we are going to be able to improve outcomes and improve equity, which is the ultimate gain."
Ms Atatoa-Carr said there had already been big interest from other DHBs keen to see whether taking a holistic approach to healthcare really did make a difference for whānau.
The project co-ordinator for local Māori health provider Te Hauora o Ngati Haua, Fred Haimona, said it was important that health professionals had an understanding of those problems.
"Some of the families are very difficult to engage with, even for Māori support workers," he said.
"It goes right back to a history of oppression and a history of being let down, of not trusting. Not just mainstream services but to any sort of professional."