Exclusive: Ministry of Health changes travel policy after blowout Las Vegas trip

The Ministry of Health has been forced to change its travel policy after Newshub pointed out a $10,000 trip to Las Vegas that didn't appear to have any clear benefits for the taxpayer.

It's also reining in spending on consultants after a cost blowout.

It's nice work if you can get it - and the Ministry of Health's Chief Technology Officer got it; IT boss Ann-Marie Cavanagh was one of 44,000 attendees at a technology and health conference in Las Vegas in March.

It was a big deal, including a keynote speech from the US President's son-in-law Jared Kushner.

"We certainly don't have money to spare on junkets to Las Vegas," says National's Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse.

"I'll be making sure that any future trips that I sign off on that there is a really clear benefit," says Health Director-General Ashley Bloomfield.

It was also Ms Cavanagh who signed off on the Ministry's mothballed Beam robots. Last month Newshub revealed it spent $32,000 on what are, essentially, iPads on wheels.

Ms Cavanagh was the Ministry's top spender on travel - even more than the big boss.

The $9771 for the Vegas trip included more than $1000 just to register for the conference. All up, she spent $33,971 in the year to June - the equivalent of a couple of hip replacements or a few knee operations.

"It's a very significant amount of money, and taxpayers have a right to know if it's money well spent," says Mr Woodhouse.

When Newshub raised the Ministry's big spending, the Director-General of Health changed the rules. From now on, all international travel goes through him.

"I want to know that the Director-General of Health has procedures in place and is confident that taxpayers' money is being spent wisely," Health Minister David Clark told Newshub.

Ministry bosses will be spending less, and the Ministry will also be cutting back on consultants and contractors. The 2018 budget blew out from $13 million to $21 million.

The Ministry's now trying to slash that by $6 million.

"This year we've committed to spending less on external contractors and consultants," says Mr Bloomfield. "I've made that clear to the staff here."

Minister Clark was the most vociferous critic of overspending at the Ministry of Health when he was in Opposition. The fact it's still happening now that he's Minister could be seen as embarrassing.

But change is being promised, and the Ministry of Health is leaving Las Vegas.


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