23 Jan 2018

Waikato DHB spent $106,000 to hire Nigel Murray

From Checkpoint, 5:21 pm on 23 January 2018

Waikato DHB paid a recruitment agency more than $106,000 to hire Nigel Murray, whose spending as its former chief executive is being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office. 

Dr Murray resigned from his $560,000 position at the DHB in October, after concerns were raised about his expenses, particularly for travel. 

Nigel Murray

Dr Nigel Murray has resigned from various health authorities after extravagant spending on travel at each.  Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

An Audit New Zealand report later found he had spent public money on travel without proper authorisation, or sometimes with approval sought after the fact, with no obvious or identifiable business attached to it, and once during a period of sick leave. 

The Serious Fraud Office launched an inquiry in November.
His hiring has been heavily criticised, leading Waikato DHB chair Bob Simcock to resign over the controversy

Information obtained by Checkpoint under the Official Information Act shows the DHB contracted Sheffield Search to help them hire a new chief executive in 2014.

The company's first invoice to the DHB was for $23,334 for the "first instalment in respect of the search for a Chief Executive Officer". 

The invoices kept coming, tallying up at $106,556.58. 

Candidates were interviewed, tested and references checked, and despite warnings - including from former Health Minister Annette King - It was decided Mr Murray was the best fit. 

"I can only assume he managed to hoodwink the chair and then the board, because other people were warning," Dame Annette told Checkpoint

Annette King

Dame Annette King was health minister when Nigel Murray was at Southland DHB Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

"I'm pretty sure ASMS, the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, were warning the chair and the board not to hire him, they were aware of his background, and I can only assume that he dazzled the panel or the organisation that hired him."

She raised concerns repeatedly, including a written question to the Health Minister at the time, Tony Ryall, just prior to Dr Murray's appointment. 

Murray previously left Southland DHB 'under a cloud'

Dame Annette said her concerns sparked from her experience of Dr Murray during her time as Health Minister, when he was chief executive of Southland DHB.

"He left that DHB under a cloud ... when I heard he was going to be likely in Waikato, I did warn them to look closely at his record."

Checkpoint can reveal that at Southland DHB between 2006 and 2007, Dr Murray spent $128,000 on expenses in just 18 months at Southland DHB. 

Half of that was on domestic travel. 

That was a precursor to his record of extravagant spending on travel: he went on to spend $140,000 over 18 months heading a Canadian health authority and at least $218,000 over three years at Waikato DHB. 

A draft report from Audit NZ into his spending included details of two trips to Australia within a five-day period while he headed Waikato DHB, for which there was no explanation or reason given.

A number of instances of travel were also not approved, and travel was also approved retrospectively in a number of cases.

No one spoken to by Checkpoint was able to confirm who at Southland DHB recommended Dr Murray for the position of chief executive at Waikato.

Sheffield Search refused to comment, citing privacy issues. Checkpoint has repeatedly tried to contact Dr Murray.