27 Apr 2024

Former Te Whatu Ora chairperson Rob Campbell criticises Health NZ's 'savings' directive

2:32 pm on 27 April 2024
Former Te Whatu Ora chairman Rob Campbell says the organisation is planning to lay off large numbers of administrative and managerial staff.

Rob Campbell. Photo: Stuff / Lawrence Smith

The former chairperson of Te Whatu Ora has criticised plans to make savings at the country's hospitals, saying they are extraordinary and signal poor management.

Te Whatu Ora has told public hospitals they need to make target savings of $105 million by July, saying it was about bringing the organisation back to budget.

It said several districts have gone over budget in the past three months, adding it is "reducing the overspend, not making cuts".

But former Te Whatu Ora chairperson Rob Campbell said that felt like a last-minute panic on behalf of management.

"No one argues that you shouldn't operate within a budget in a public organisation, but this is something you plan for and implement throughout the year.

"This type of last minute, 'Oh we're a bit short, we have to do this,' is classic poor management - and to do that in a hospital setting is just frankly irresponsible."

Campbell said it was unclear where the pressure to save money was coming from.

"Unless it means that the government has now imposed some further restrictions on spending that weren't there before, in which case it sheets home directly to the Minister of Health who should not be making these last-minute calls on a hospital service.

"It's very much the wrong way to be running this."

Campbell said any intention to reduce hospital spending was misplaced, and Te Whatu Ora had a legal and moral responsibility to its staff and patients.

Shane Reti

Health Minister Shane Reti. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

"The primary responsibility that the leadership of Te Whatu Ora has is to the Pae Ora legislation and its principles and the Te Mauri o Rongo health charter that it's entered into with its staff. In these actions it's completely over-riding both of those."

Te Whatu Ora released the $105m figure to RNZ on Friday afternoon after a series of leaks about which health districts faced what targets. The savings ordered range from 0.6 percent to 1.2 percent of a district's budget.

Health NZ was funded almost $23 billion for 2023-24.

Health unions have warned the constraints will impact medical care, a claim denied by Health NZ and Health Minister Shane Reti.

Various government departments and ministries have been ordered to slash their budgets by up to 7.5 percent, cuts which the opposition said were being made to fund tax cuts for the likes of landlords.

"Health NZ is not subject to the same government directive for savings as some other departments," Reti said on Friday.

"These are operational decisions made by Health NZ, not the government. What Health NZ is doing is finding ways to reduce spending by making day-to-day operational practices as efficient as possible so they can re-invest in the frontline.

"I have been assured that managing clinical risk and sustaining services is always Health NZ's top priority. None of these cost-saving measures will impact the level of care patients receive."

Campbell was sacked from the Te Whatu Ora board last year over a political attack he made about the National Party's Three Waters policy.

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