Health reporter Eileen Goodwin looks at some of the
issues facing candidates in the Southern District Health Board
Protesters rally against the decision by the Southern
District Health to dump Presbyterian Support Otago from the
home support service.
A perception some of the heat has gone off the Southern
District Health Board may encourage those standing in the
Since the first election in 2010 after the Otago-Southland
merger, a new chairman and new chief executive seem to have
improved a previously testy relationship with Wellington.
Muddled lines between management and governance have been
defined, partly by bringing in private-sector expertise.
While still in deficit, the board has mostly managed to meet
stricter clinical targets without going further into the red.
A scathing report in 2011 by the National Health Board, which
identified the governance issue and
other shortcomings, particularly in Dunedin Hospital
services, does not appear to have been followed by much
scrutiny from Wellington, which seems happy with progress the
board has made.
Southern was cleared recently of concerns a psychiatrist
experimented on mental health patients with the anaesthetic
ketamine, the long-running investigation leading to a
sharpening of practices around prescribing drugs for other
purposes than what they are licensed.
The neurosurgery service question was decided after the
tumult of the threat of losing it from Dunedin in 2010.
It is now incorporated with the rest of the South Island.
Belgian neurosurgeon Prof Dirk De Ridder's arrival this year
to lead the Dunedin division sparked national interest in his
novel brain research planned at the University of Otago.
Chief executive Carole Heatly has tried to refocus some staff
and services towards the community to take pressure off
hospital services, leading to a restructuring which has been
under way largely under the radar.
Her low-key style contrasts with that of the more combative
chairman, Joe Butterfield, who is known for his gruff yet
good-natured handling of meetings.
The public section of meetings is noticeably short under
Timaru-based Mr Butterfield, who has said he is willing to
serve another term and seems likely to be reappointed by Health
Minister Tony Ryall.
Formerly Wellington-based public relations practitioner Steve
Addison leads a beefed-up communications department, and has
overseen a more controlled public relations operation.
The tight rein on public statements has sharpened the
message, but might have contributed to a failure to recognise
genuine public disquiet about a decision to dump Presbyterian
Support Otago from the home support service.
The decision to favour an Australian-owned company over a
long-serving local one might affect board members'
re-election prospects, although it is unclear whether the
issue is on the radar of voters.
Southern has been slower than some other boards, notably
Canterbury, at forging strong links with the
community/primary care sector to try to limit hospital
Its efforts in this area, in which it must now make progress
in because of new primary care alliance bodies' being
mandatory in all boards, had a setback when funding and
finance head Robert Mackway-Jones left earlier this year.
The board is sharing a senior manager with the Nelson
Marlborough District Health Board while it reviews the
top-level role vacated by Mr Mackway-Jones.
Helped by a ninth operating theatre at Dunedin Hospital, the
board has managed to keep up with increased demands around
elective surgery, such as providing first specialist
assessments and treatment (once promised) in five months
instead of six.
But it faces a challenge to keep up with increasingly short
time frames, while Dunedin Hospital's need for investment
appears unlikely to be met any time soon.
On a recent visit to Dunedin, Mr Ryall suggested Christchurch
and Greymouth had more pressing capital investment needs.
One service considered in dire need of an upgrade is
Dunedin's gastroenterology facility.
The South has New Zealand's highest rate of bowel cancer, and
despite its shortcomings the Dunedin facility has to function
as a teaching site as well as the hospital's only endoscopy
A renewed push spearheaded by former department head Emeritus
Prof Gil Barbezat appears to have made little headway yet,
despite the group he leads releasing a highly critical report
slating an 18-year delay in upgrading the facility.
Pleas for hospital investment seem likely be championed by
board candidate Dr John Chambers, an outspoken emergency
department specialist at Dunedin Hospital.
Dr Chambers's advocacy of resourcing hospital services rather
than diverting more funds into community services might put
him at odds with other board members, some of whom view his
candidacy as representing a senior doctors' union agenda.
Two board members, committee chairman Dr Malcolm Macpherson,
in Otago, and deputy chairman Paul Menzies, in Southland, are
Standing with Dr Chambers in the Otago constituency (four
vacancies) are current board members Dr Branko Sijnja, of
Dunedin; Mary Flannery, of Central Otago; Richard Thomson, of
Dunedin. Also standing: Graham Roper, Dunedin; Paul Douglas,
Dunedin; Mary Gamble, Omakau; Peter Barron, Dunedin; Donna
Matahaere Atariki, Dunedin; Adrian Graamans, Dunedin; Ricky
Carr, Dunedin; Julian Crawford, Dunedin; Gordon Sanderson,
In Southland (three vacancies), existing members Kaye
Crowther and Neville Cook are standing for re-election, while
appointed member Tim Ward is also standing.
Other candidates in Southland: Carl Heenan, Tony Hill, Dave
Rohan, Key Frost, Tracey Wright-Tawha.