Health Minister David Clark sacks Waikato DHB, replaces with commissioner

Health Minister David Clark has appointed a commissioner to replace Waikato District Health Board (DHB) members after months of concerns about their performance.

Former director general of health Dr Karen Poutasi will become the Commissioner with effect from Wednesday, Clark announced on Tuesday.

Clark had warned the Board members he may replace them with a commissioner, with nine of 11 responding with their resignations, which Clark said highlighted the "seriousness of the challenges they have been dealing with".

"After careful consideration of the submissions from Board members, I have decided that the appointment of a commissioner is necessary to lead the significant changes required at the DHB," he said.

Clark insists installing a commissioner was pivotal in addressing the DHB's "deteriorating financial position, lack of strong governance, and on-going performance issues with clinical services".

In 2017/18, the DHB had a deficit of $37.2 million which has grown to $56.1 million in to 2018/19 forecasts. It had also failed to recruit a permanent chief executive to replace Nigel Murray who left in October 2017.

"I have consistently made it clear to DHB chairs that I expect them to be careful stewards of our health system and deliver quality services to their communities.

"Where those expectations are not met I have a range of options available, including appointing a commissioner."

One of the DHB members, Dave Macpherson, called the decision by Clark "New Zealand's worst kept secret" and insisted it was Clark's intention regardless of what members said.

He disagreed that the Board was "dysfunctional" and said Clark hadn't recognised work done by the DHB to try and turn around "the failing ship it had inherited".

As he was elected to his position, Macpherson said Clark's decision "would never stack up in an Employment Tribunal".

"Successive Governments have given themselves the power to take this sort of action, without fair accountability, in my opinion."

Macpherson also called on the Commissioner to look into demands by the DHB for a second inquest into the death of his son, Nicky Stevens.

Stevens' suicide after leaving a Hamilton mental health facility had been ruled as avoidable by Coroner Wallace Bain, but the DHB asked for a second inquest into it, intensifying tensions between the family and the Board.

Clark praised Dr Poutasi as having the ideal skills to tackle the issues the DHB was facing. She is the current chief executive of the NZ Qualifications Authority (NZQA), of which she will take unpaid leave from when working as Commissioner.

It's believed her work will take two or three full-time days each week, meaning she will continue to work for the NZQA on a part-time basis.

Elections for the Waikato DHB to take place in October have also been cancelled and the return to an elected board will not happen until 2022.


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