O’Sullivan sets sights high

Dr Lance O’ Sullivan is a son of Howick. Times photos Wayne Martin.

Talk about great expectations. Big things are expected of Dr Lance O’ Sullivan.

Described as a passionate public health campaigner, the New Zealander of the Year 2014 is poised to be the new leader of the Maori Party for 2020. Many in the know predict that he will resurrect the Maori Party after it was wiped out in this year’s General Election.

Dr O’ Sullivan has also been pipped to be a future Health Minister who will implement huge changes after the 2020 elections.

Could he even become Prime Minister at the next General Elections?

Given his fierce passion to eradicate poverty and bring about a dramatic change in the health sector coupled with leadership skills, expertise, charisma and a huge media presence— all point towards the making of a great leader.

Not many are aware that the 45-year-old doctor from Kaitaia, who has collected plenty of awards including Champion of Public Health and Maori of the Year 2013, grew up in Highland Park.

Meeting the son of Howick at the historic Stockade Hill is an apt location to meet the influential doctor— known for a number of initiatives including setting up Northland’s full-time school based health clinic providing care to 2000 children across the regions; focussing on Pacific and Maori Health; and founder of the iMoko Foundation, a digital healthcare programme that makes healthcare more accessible to new Zealanders.

The Northland doctor works 70-hours-a-week and looks in good form as he turns up in his cycling gear, having cycled from Panmure Station to Stockade Hill.

It’s almost 30 years since he visited the area he grew up in. Getting nostalgic as he looks at the panoramic view he says: “I went to the kindergarten across the road in Howick and studied at the Howick Primary and Howick Intermediate.”

Pointing to the area where Monterey Cinemas once stood, he remembers going to the movies with his mum at the old historic cinema that has moved location since.

“I went to Pakuranga College and got expelled,” he smiles.

He says “unharnessed genius” that got him thrown out of college.

After being expelled from two colleges, it was a Maori Boarding School in the North Shore that changed the course of his life. It nurtured him and helped him follow his calling.

Growing up in Highland Park, he met his wife Tracy at the Long View Pub in Howick.

“I had my first baby at 21,” says the father of seven, who now regularly visits Auckland as he is works hard at democratising healthcare by using technology to champion public health.

He has been pushing for the government to invest in sustainable models of healthcare. Demonstrating an app on his iPhone, he points out how a digital diagnosis would take between than 15 to 18 minutes which includes a prescription being sent to the pharmacy closest to your home.

The digital healthcare programme is already being used in some of the kindergartens where staff is being trained to do a health assessment.

Photographs of a child’s symptoms are saved on iCloud and assessed by a group of trained people at his office. The diagnosis is then sent to Dr O’ Sullivan to have a quick look at, regardless of where he is in the country. A prescription is promptly sent to a pharmacy close to the person’s residence.

“And if there is a mother with a small child who finds it difficult to visit the pharmacy, the medicine can be delivered by Uber.

“It is like Uber in Healthcare… using health resources smarter,” he says.

Currently under a two year contract funded by the Ministry of Health, Dr O’ Sullivan is working hard to expand it significantly in other areas, even while he works on his political aspirations.

About the crumbling of the Maori Party he says, “Out of crisis comes opportunity. And that is a good thing. I am looking forward to creating a party that is all inclusive and embraces all cultures and brings diversity within its fold.”