National slams government West Coast DHB chair appointment

4:08 pm on 9 December 2019

Comments by the West Coast DHB's new chair Rick Barker are a slap in the face for the region, the National Party's spokesperson for the area Maureen Pugh says.

National list MP Maureen Pugh arriving at Parliament where her party's caucus is meeting to discuss the Jami-Lee Ross controversy.

National list MP Maureen Pugh, a former mayor of Westland district. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

Mr Barker was appointed on Friday in a government shake-up of DHB leadership around the country.

The Greymouth-born former Labour Cabinet minister told media at the weekend his primary focus would be on his council roles in Hawke's Bay where he lives.

"I'm going to remain fully focused on my role at the Hawke's Bay Regional Council and the Environment Committee," Mr Barker said.

"I've been in Hawke's Bay longer than anywhere else, so I call Hawke's Bay home. It (the DHB role) is a monthly or six-weekly meeting, and the phones, e-mails work pretty well'."

Mrs Pugh said the comments were extraordinary.

"They show how little interest Mr Barker has in the job," she said.

"It is yet another slap in the face for the Coast by this government.

"Not only is Mr Barker determined to stay put in Hawke's Bay, a region vastly different and miles away from the West Coast, but it's his impression the role will only require a monthly or even six-weekly meetings.

"This is a big role which requires a lot of attention. I'm not sure what Mr Barker thinks the role requires but it's more than just a meeting every four to six weeks.

"This is just par for the course by the government. The West Coast deserves better," Mrs Pugh said.

However, Mr Barker said Mrs Pugh's criticism was the usual piece of politically-motivated faux outrage, and she had quoted him out of context.

"I was asked by a Hawke's Bay reporter if I was still committed to my work in Hastings, which I am, but I am equally committed to doing my very best for the West Coast DHB.

 Hawke's Bay Regional councillors Rex Graham, Rick Barker and Tom Belford (l-r) have been leading critics of the Ruataniwha Dam process.

New West Coast DHB chair Rick Barker with two other Hawke's Bay regional councillors Photo: RNZ

"Mrs Pugh knows full well that being the chair is not a full-time job, but having said that I intend to devote a lot more time and enthusiasm to it than just going to meetings," Mr Barker said.

He would make a virtue out of necessity when he travelled down to the coast to stop off in Wellington and Christchurch to talk to Ministry of Health and Canterbury DHB officials.

"I will also be stopping off in Westport and Hokitika on those trips, to meet mayors and others and get updated on health concerns in their communities."

Mr Barker said his priority would be to see the unfinished new hospital in Greymouth completed and opened.