27 May 2021

Canterbury medical officer of health says DHB not allowing him to work

5:57 pm on 27 May 2021

Canterbury's long-standing medical officer of health says battle lines have been drawn after he was not allowed to return to work.

A court order last month temporarily reinstated him to the role, ahead of a full court hearing next month.

Dr. Alistair Humphrey, Public Health Physician outside Parliament to support Greenpeace in raising awareness of the health implications of expanding intensive dairying.

Dr Alistair Humphrey. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Dr Alistair Humphrey was a medical officer of health from 2000 until he was dismissed by the Canterbury DHB for incompatibility in October 2020.

Humphrey is challenging his dismissal at the Employment Court, which last month ordered that he be temporarily put back in his role until a decision is made on his substantive claim against the DHB.

He said he was back on the DHB's payroll but had not been able to return to work.

Humphrey said he met with the DHB chief executive yesterday, but they failed to reach an agreement for him to return to work.

Humphrey said he was disappointed not to be back.

"I thought the court order was clear, I don't believe the DHB is fully compliant with the court order," he said.

"I'm disappointed that I'm not back at work, I was looking forward to getting back to work, but disappointed [that I'm not]."

Humphrey said there was no further mediation scheduled ahead of the substantive court hearing.

"Battle lines have been drawn," he said.

The substantive claim hearing will take place on 21 June at the Employment Court in Christchurch.

The DHB declined to comment.

"As the matter you refer to is still before the courts, we are unable to provide comment at this time," a spokesperson said.

Staff consider leaving if Humphrey returns

The complaints about Humphrey were raised with the Canterbury District Health Board in November 2019 when a number of clinicians from the DHB wrote to the then chief executive about public statements made by Humphrey and working relationship issues.

The latest Employment Court decision released last month revealed that one staff member had said they would leave if Humphrey was reinstated, and others have said they would consider their options.

However, the decision noted that one of the colleagues who had particular difficulties engaging with Humphrey had left the organisation.

In her judgement, Chief Judge Christina Inglis said on the untested evidence currently before the court there was a clearly arguable case for permanent reinstatement.

She also said Humphrey had expressed a willingness to constructively move forward, which she said lent weight to the prospect of a successful reintegration.