Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says Health Minister Chris Hipkins is actively intervening in the crisis at the Canterbury District Health Board.
After weeks of silence from her health minister, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has conceded the Government must “move quickly” to intervene in the crisis at Canterbury’s health board.
But there is no detail on what will be done about the alarming slew of senior executive resignations, nor when.
National’s deputy leader Gerry Brownlee has called for an independent advisory group to look at the issues, while many of Canterbury’s local politicians have maintained a stony silence.
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It is nearly three weeks since chief executive David Meates resigned after an emergency Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) board meeting on August 4. By then, two senior staff – people officer Michael Frampton and funding and decision support executive director Carolyn Gullery – had already quit.
The day after Meates shock resignation, chief financial operator Justine White followed suit.
Since then chief medical officer and the regions’ Covid-19 response lead Sue Nightingale, executive director of nursing and facilities management lead Mary Gordon and chief digital officer Stella Ward have resigned.
It is understood tensions have been mounting since board chairman Sir John Hansen and Crown Monitor Lester Levy were appointed to the board late last year.
More than 8000 staff at the country’s second largest health board were left in a state of shock by the exodus of seven of the 11-strong leadership team within a month.
On Thursday about 200 Christchurch Hospital staff protested outside the CDHB corporate offices to make it known they blamed the board for the resignations.
Senior doctors twice wrote to Ardern in desperation over the board’s direction and approach. They finally received a response to their second letter on Friday afternoon, after Stuffasked Ardern about it at her 1pm coronavirus stand-up. Stuff has not seen her reply.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Chris Hipkins has repeatedly refused to comment on the issues in recent weeks, saying it was a matter for the CDHB’s board, who maintained his confidence.
In an issued statement late on Friday, he was in “ongoing discussions” with the board chairman and would be talking to him again on Monday.
Three years ago, at a Stuff political debate, Ardern criticised then Prime Minister Bill English for “the war your government has waged on the Canterbury District Health Board”, saying “we’ve got to work together”.
Under the previous National-led government, the relationship between the CDHB and the Health Ministry had soured over funding, the size of Canterbury’s population, and a failure to deliver a promised hospital carpark.
Reminded of her comments at Friday’s 1pm Covid-19 update, Ardern said she understood Hipkins spoke to government-appointed CDHB chair Sir John Hansen when news broke about the resignation of a further two senior executive team members.
“We are working very hard to play a constructive role. There are clearly issues that need to be addressed.”
Ardern acknowledged there were tensions between clinicians and the board.
Ardern said the Government wanted to play a constructive role in resolving the issues.
“We do know we need to move quickly.”
However, a majority of Canterbury’s elected leaders declined to comment when approached about the health board crisis.
Wigram Labour MP Megan Woods, Christchurch acting mayor Andrew Turner, Selwyn mayor Sam Broughton and Waimakariri mayor Dan Gordon declined to comment.
Christchurch Central Labour MP Duncan Webb did not reply to messages. Christchurch East Labour MP Poto Williams said the issue was “a matter for the board to deal with”.
I guess my response is it’s a little concerning but I know the Minister has a watching brief over this.”
Brownlee, who is the Ilam MP, said the situation was concerning.
He said an independent advisory group should “look at every aspect of the long history of difficulty between the CDHB and the Ministry of Health”.
In a publicly excluded session of the board meeting on Thursday, the CDHB and Crown monitor Lester Levy discussed and voted to approve the draft annual plan for 2020-21 to cut $56.9 million from the deficit of about $180m.
The vote was not unanimous, with board members Jo Kane, Andy Dickerson and Naomi Marshall voting against.
In an email to staff on Friday afternoon, Hansen said the expected deficit for 2020-21 would be $145m, with the planned savings.
“While this will be challenging, we believe it is achievable and as we’ve seen time and time again this organisation has demonstrated its ability to deliver,” he said.
“We now know what we are all aiming to achieve.”
Hansen previously said the board would not go ahead with anything that would require reduced health services for Cantabrians.
Last week he told Stuff he did not know the personal motivations behind the senior executive resignations but said at least three had other senior roles to go to.
He would not comment on why Meates had resigned.
Nightingale told RNZ’s Nine to Noon an “adversarial” approach by the board to management was behind her decision to quit.
She said it would be hard for the organisation to tolerate the large and sudden void of experience and leadership.
“It is very hard and I really think the ministry and the Government should be worried.”