7 May 2019

Health Minister replaces Waikato DHB board with Commissioner

5:23 pm on 7 May 2019

Health Minister David Clark says a Commissioner is needed to lead the "significant changes" required at the Waikato DHB.

Waikato Hospital

Waikato Hospital Photo: Waikato DHB / Facebook

Dr Clark said former director general of health Dr Karen Poutasi will take up the Commissioner's role, starting from tomorrow.

He said nine of the 11 board members offered to resign.

"I think that reflects the seriousness of the challenges they have been dealing with.

"While I thank board members for their service, installing a Commissioner is a necessary step towards addressing the DHB's deteriorating financial position, lack of strong governance, and ongoing performance issues with clinical services," he said.

Dr Clark said the financial performance of the DHB had sharply deteriorated.

"Despite the efforts by the Crown Monitor there has been limited progress due to instability at a governance level. The ongoing performance issues with clinical services are concerning - as is the DHB's inability to recruit a permanent chief executive," Dr Clark said.

Last month Dr Clark told the board he was "seriously dissatisfied" with its performance and increasingly worried about its growing deficit and instability.

On governance, the DHB is not managing some basics - like getting patients seen in the Emergency Department within the six-hour time frame expected - contributing to dysfunctional relationships with a couple of other hospitals in the DHB's own region.

Board decisions have also reportedly reached the media while the board is still meeting. Senior doctors are worried decisions are not being made, and some GPs are also unhappy.

A members-only meeting of the board met later in April to discuss the future of the board.

Waikato DHB chair Sally Webb supported the decision to sack the board and appoint a commissioner. In April she told Checkpoint the board had failed to provide focused leadership.

"I believe that it's my role as chair to be able to assure the minister that I can provide focused leadership for the organisation and I've been unable to do that. So yes, I guess we would call it game over," Ms Web said.

"I've talked to the ... minister about the advantages of having a commissioner, yes. And personally I believe the appointment of a commissioner is the right move to ensure that Waikato District Health Board has the trusted, focused leadership it needs to address the challenges it faces," she said.

Health system broken

One member of the ousted DHB, Maryanne Gill, said it was unfair to single Waikato out because the system was at fault, not an individual board.

Ms Gill acknowledged she was not particularly proud of the financial performance of the DHB, but said the problem was much wider.

"You could look at any DHB across the country, there is actually a system-wide problem that the minister and this government needs to look at as far as funding of health is concerned.

"One of the things that disappoints me about his release today is that he hasn't mentioned the system and the system is what's delivering these poor results."

Maryanne Gill said the health system in this country was broken.

However, the union representing senior doctors believes medical staff will be pleased by the decision to replace the board with a commissioner.

Ian Powell from the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists says it was clear the Waikato DHB wasn't functioning well, and that feeding through to management, which was making the life of health professionals more difficult.

"I think generally speaking they'll be relieved, pleased, and hoping that this will be a circuit breaker looking ahead to turn Waikato DHB around."

Timeline of events at Waikato DHB:

  • Waikato DHB ultimatum: All overboard or keeping afloat?
  • Health Minister David Clark offers ultimatum to Waikato District Health Board
  • Waikato DHB commissioner not a fix - MacPherson
  • Nicky Stevens' family want DHB to cover costs of legal fees
  • Waikato DHB forced to halt recruitment of CEO citing 'challenges'
  • Waikato DHB application for fresh Nicky Stevens inquiry about money, not justice - QC