25 Jun 2015

Bullying claim at Ministry of Health

8:36 am on 25 June 2015

Some executives at the Ministry of Health (MOH) stand accused of being abusive, undermining and nasty.

New Zealand Government; parliament; Beehive

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The claims were made at a meeting of Parliament's Health Select Committee today, stunning some members of the ministry in the room.

Early on during the hearing, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman was enjoying telling politicians about the government's spending on the health sector.

But then Labour's Annette King dropped this bombshell:

"I have received a letter from one of your senior people within the ministry saying they're appalled at the culture of bullying, intimidation and destructive behaviour with some senior leaders within the Ministry of Health ... degrading comments and overt discussions about the removal of DHB leaders that the Ministry of Health and the National Health Board officials don't like."

[audo]http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/morningreport/audio/201759818/labour-behaviour-at-helath-minsitry-%27nasty,-undermining%27 Listen to Annette King on Morning Report

The whistleblower's letter goes on to say some executives have been "banging tables and shouting and intimidating" senior leaders at the debt-laden Southern District Health Board (DHB), whose board has been sacked and replaced with a commissioner.

It also said comments made within the ministry have been "abusive, nasty and totally at odds with the public sector code of conduct".

National MP Jonathan Coleman.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said he would take the bullying and intimidation claims seriously. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Ms King asked the minister what he was going to do about the allegations.

Dr Coleman said, in any organisation of 1150 people, there would be some who were disgruntled. He said it was hard for him to comment on the claims.

"What I have sensed when I've gone around the ministry... and talked to many, many officials there, that actually they're a very committed group of officials," he said.

"I think they're doing an excellent job. You know, it's always tough being in the Ministry of Health. I'd think we'd acknowledge historically it's a pressured job in a very important sector."

Dr Coleman left it to the new chief executive of the Ministry of Health - Chai Chuah - to tackle the bullying claim head-on.

"I do not tolerate the bullying and I've made it quite explicit to the staff. And I talk to them three of four times a year... and when I go round to individual departments now, I actually reinforce the culture of engagement, open transparency, and bullying is not to be tolerated.

The Health Minister said he would take the bullying and intimidation claims seriously.

The Labour Party said it expected a formal response to the claims raised at today's committee hearing.