Hope he’s standing for right reasons

October 4, 2010

When Otago District Health Board employee Michael Swann was found guilty of a $17m fraud, Health Minister Tony Ryall held board chair Richard Thomson responsible and sacked him.

Thomson was elected to the board, chose to stay on as a member and is a candidate in the current election for what is now the Southern District Health Board which was formed when the Otago and Southland DHB’s amalgamated.

I have no doubt he’ll get back on and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he tops the poll.

I just hope he’s standing because he can make a positive contribution to the board and health services in the south and not in a misguided attempt to give the fingers to the minister.


Health Boards’ merger less certain

December 15, 2009

Otago and Southland District Health Boards have been developing a closer relationship for some time.

They have a single chief executive and chair and have been consulting on a full merger.

Public meetings on the proposal haven’t been well attended which indicates people don’t have strong feelings on the issue.

The most heat about the the proposal was from Central Otago where people who are caught between board boundaries were in favour of the merge. They gave the example of someone in Queenstown who needs chemotherapy who has to go to Invercargill under the current structure but would be able to make the shorter journey to Dunstan Hospital if there was a single board.

However, Southland Hospital doctors wrote an open letter opposing the merger, just a day before submissions closed.

Dr Charles Lueker, who chairs the senior medical staff committee in Southland, said the letter was signed on behalf of “well over 90%” of senior doctors at Southland Hospital.

The doctors expressed concerns about services being centralised to Dunedin and the loss of the board’s advocacy for the people of Southland.

Reducing costs, sharing resources and providing more convenient service for many rural patients has a lot to recommend it.

It would be a pity if the merger which would do this was to fail at this late stage.


Southern DHBs to merge

October 11, 2009

The Otago and Southland District Health Boards are expected to merge.

The boards have been working closely together with some members from each sitting on both. A merger is the logical next step.

A merger of the Otago and Southland district health boards would immediately save a minimum of $500,000, with savings of at least $1 million expected longer term as duplication of board and committee meetings was cut, ODHB chairman Errol Millar said last night.

 It will also mean better service and some choice for patients, especially in Central Otago.

Cancer patients from Queenstown have to travel to Invercargill for chemotherapy treatment even though it could be provided at Clyde Hospital which is closer because Queenstown is covered by the SDHB and Clyde is under the ODHB. When the boards merge this sort of bureaucratic line drawing will stop.

The merge might persuade neighbouring boards in other areas to join forces too. Twenty one district health boards for a population of 4 million is administration overkill and a ridiculous waste of time, energy and money.


You’ve gotta know when to hold up . . .

February 19, 2009

. . . know when to fold up, know when to walk away . . .

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Garrick Tremain’s cartoon, printed several days ago, shows that then Otago District Health Board chair Richard Thomson didn’t heed the words of the Gambler.

He didn’t accept the invitation to walk so Health Minister Tony Ryall relieved him of his chairmanship.

The ODT doesn’t agree  with that decision:

While Mr Ryall’s demands for accountability are understandable, he picked the wrong scapegoat.

. . . It was other executives and senior staff who, surely, carried far more responsibility, particularly because warnings about Swann were not passed on.

But the Minister of Health has no control over any of these people so is it possible he’s using  one of few weapons in his armoury – the right to appoint, and disappoint, the chair – to encourage the board to take further action which he can’t?

The Minister of Corrections Judith Collins is similarly constrained over the continuing employment of Barry Matthews in spite of a damning report from the auditor general about the department he heads. He is answerable to her but she is not his employer so it is up to the State Services Commission to sack him, or not.

The Prime Minister supports his minister  :

“The New Zealand public is entitled to expect accountability, and quite frankly, that report made such damning reading they can have no confidence at this point that the department is following an approved set of procedures that they promised they would follow.”

The operative word is accountability.

It’s not blame or responsibility, and anyone with the ability to chair a board or lead a government department ought to understand that, and to know that it is better to fold up and walk with dignity than to wait to have your cards taken from you.


DHB fraud fallout highlights stupidity of Clayton’s democracy

February 17, 2009

Otago District Health Board chairman Richard Thomson didn’t accept the invitation to jump so Health Minister Tony Ryall has pushed him

No-one is saying Thomson is responsible for the $17 million fraud for which former ODHB employee Michael Swann and his and business associate Kerry Harford were found gulty last year.

But Ryall is holding him accountable  and had he understood his role and responsibilities as chair he’d have resigned before he was sacked.

David Farrar Kiwiblog explains the requirement for accountability at Kiwiblog and in his NBR column.

The letters page of the ODT has had a lot of correspondence on the issue, some of those in support of Thomson point out he was elected to the board, not appointed.

That is irrelevant and just highlights the stupidity of the Clayton’s democracy surrounding DHB elections because, elected or appointed ,health boards and their members are accountable not to their communities but the Minister.

Because he’s elected, Thomson could choose to stay on as a board member now he’s been sacked as chair. But if he didn’t understand why, although he was neither to blame nor responsible for the fraud, he should still have been accountable for it; he’s shown he doesn’t understand the role of the board and to whom it’s answerable.


$16.9m fraud against ODHB

December 8, 2008

Michael Swann and Kerry Harford have been found guilty of defrauding the Otago District Health Board of $16.9m.

The ODT backgrounds what is thought to be the largest fraud against a government instituion.

Its editorial asks about the duty of care the ODHB and its predecessor Healthcare Otago had to prevent the fraud or uncover it sooner.

And Health Minister Tony Ryall has called for urgent confirmation systems are in place  to prevent fraud in all DHBs.

Large organisations have to trust their employees, but they also need systems to ensure that their trust is not misplaced.


Key firm on 100 day programme

December 6, 2008

John Key told the ODT he’s determined to implement the 100 day programme  the National party campaigned on.

That includes the tax package, RMA reform, literacy and numeracy standards in education and he also wants more accountability in health:

The Ministry of Health and district health boards would be instructed to halt the growth in health bureaucracy and open their books on the true state of hospital waiting lists and the crisis in services.

The opening of books won’t be pretty if yesterday’s story from the Otago District Health Board is anything to go on. It’s facing a $13 million deficit.


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