COVID-19: Contents of Auckland DHB's 'informal' weekly meetings kept secret from public

Auckland DHB has been holding informal meetings in order to keep the agenda secret.
Auckland DHB has been holding informal meetings in order to keep the agenda secret. Photo credit: Newshub

Rowan Quinn RNZ

Auckland District Health Board held an emergency meeting last month but its Covid-19-heavy content is being kept secret.

And it has been revealed the board has been holding "informal" meetings weekly during the Covid-19 outbreak - unadvertised and also secret.

The emergency meeting was on 24 November and every item was in the confidential part of the agenda - apart from a karakia and a procedural item.

No members of the public or media were allowed to be present - and the detail of what was being discussed was secret.

The general topics included Covid-19 testing, Covid-19 building work, staffing, and an item simply labelled Covid-19 Report.

The existence of the emergency meeting emerged in the agenda for this week's full board meeting where the "informal" meetings were also discussed.

Auckland DHB had cancelled all of its public committee meetings in the outbreak, the only one of the city's three district health boards to do so.

A report in this week's board agenda said it was not seen as a problem because there had been the informal meetings instead.

The report said the committee meetings had been cancelled to ease the pressure on staff who had to provide updates but were also at the forefront of the Covid-19 response and the transition to the new body Health NZ.

The senior doctors union, the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, said it was very concerning to see the secrecy at one of the country's biggest DHBs.

Its executive director Sarah Dalton said the public had a right to know how health decisions were made.

"Health and particularly Covid at the moment are massively in the public interest, in the public eye and it's important that people know what's going on, good, bad or otherwise," she said.

Hospitals and public health organisations needed to be accountable and open about their decisions, even if the information was unpalatable, she said.

"It's a tax payer funded public health system so that's part of the deal," she said.

And the group governing the Covid-19 response at Auckland's three district health boards is refusing to release details of how busy the hospitals' dedicated Covid-19 wards have been.

RNZ has repeatedly asked the Northern Region Health Coorindation Centre about how full the Covid-19 wards in North Shore, Middlemore and Auckland hospitals were from late November to early December.

But despite the information being readily available, the centre would only release figures for all three hospitals combined.

A spokesperson said because the response was handled regionally it was "most appropriate" to use a regional figure.