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Changes planned to improve Aotearoa New Zealand’s mortality review function

Mortality Review Committees
19 October 2022

A single national mortality review committee will be established next year, following an independent review of Aotearoa New Zealand’s mortality review function.

Currently, the national mortality review function comprises five individual national mortality review committees, which report to the board of the Health Quality & Safety Commission (the Commission).

The Commission board has, over a period of some time, thoughtfully and carefully been reviewing the current national mortality review function to ensure it is fit-for-purpose for future generations.

The current statutory mortality review committees review deaths of children and young people aged 28 days to 24 years, deaths of mothers and babies (perinatal and maternal), deaths related to surgery, deaths related to family violence and suicide deaths. These committees will continue for now as expert groups, under the oversight of the National Mortality Review Committee.

Commission board chair Dr Dale Bramley says, ‘The findings of the recent independent review by Francis Health have reinforced the role and importance of the mortality review function within our health system and the value it delivers in improving health outcomes for New Zealanders. However, there are some limitations with the current format for undertaking this function.

‘We acknowledge this is a significant change to the current national mortality review process and may cause concern for some, however, the board has thoroughly considered several options and we are confident this approach will better address equity issues and help to reduce mortality.’

Dr Bramley says this structure and scope of the current national mortality review function, being fixed to specific classes of mortality, prevents the flexibility to investigate new priorities and emerging issues. The embedding of existing Te Tiriti o Waitangi and pro-equity guidelines also varies across committees.

‘One of the main reasons for the transformation is to address inequities in Māori mortality rates. The significant current inequities in Māori mortality rates are unacceptable and cannot be ignored. We need to include a strong and unfettered Māori voice in this transformation and the future national mortality review function.

‘The transformed national mortality review function will strengthen the core structure of how we conduct mortality review, resulting in a more cohesive and flexible function that can meet the changing demands the future may bring. The core value of doing better for people in Aotearoa New Zealand by seeking to understand how we can prevent these deaths, will continue to underpin this work.

‘The health reforms and the establishment of the new health entities Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand and Te Aka Whai Ora | Māori Health Authority also give us a real opportunity to have mortality review embedded into the new health system, where it can be better positioned to inform and influence real and sustainable change.’

Dr Bramley says, ‘I would like to acknowledge the diligence, expertise and incredible commitment of committee chairs and members who have worked tirelessly over several years towards better outcomes for New Zealanders. All current committees will continue to exist until 30 June 2023, throughout the transition to the refreshed model, and members will be invited to become subject matter and representative experts within these priority workstreams of the National Mortality Review Committee. I can assure current committee members that their areas of focus will continue to be a priority throughout the transition.

‘The Commission board welcomes the opportunity to develop and draw on a broader pool of subject matter and representative expertise to support mortality review and the work of the Commission, and to build stronger Māori membership on a national committee.’

Over the coming months, the Commission will begin to implement the transformation of the national mortality review function. This will involve developing key tools, such as the prioritisation framework for evaluating current and new areas of mortality review.

An interim National Mortality Review Committee will be stood up in early 2023 to provide expertise in the development of these core frameworks and identify emerging areas of mortality review.

Click here to read the independent review by Francis Health.