Legal advice backs case, PSO says

Legal advice supports the claim Presbyterian Support Otago (PSO) was dumped as a home-based support provider using a flawed process, PSO board chairman Frazer Barton says. Yesterday, PSO wrote to Southern District Health Board requesting a meeting with board members, on the basis of the legal advice, to argue its case.

Meanwhile, members of the public are invited to join PSO staff tomorrow in a rally at 12.30pm, beginning at the Moray Pl PSO base. The group planned to march on the footpath to the Octagon to gather signatures for a petition calling for the board to reconsider. The petition, launched last week, had gathered more than 1000 signatures yesterday. Mr Barton said the legal opinion, from Dr Royden Somerville QC, identified flaws in the board's process. He could not give further details.

PSO had so far been unable to secure a meeting with board members, but had met management, he said. If it needed to, PSO would take the board to court, but Mr Barton hoped it would not reach that point.

PSO wanted to partner with Disabilities Resource Centre Southland for a redesigned home-based support service for older people in Otago and Southland.

Contacted yesterday, health board deputy chairman Paul Menzies said he was open to the idea of a meeting, but he emphasised he could not speak on behalf of chairman Joe Butterfield, who could not be contacted.

When contacted on Monday, Mr Menzies warned the board was not funded to be a ''social agency'', and made decisions as a business would.

''Unfortunately, we are in a business ... and we are not, regrettably, funded to be a social agency.''

Cost and financial sustainability were factors in the home-based service decision, which followed an ''exhaustive'' process to determine the most able providers for the new service.

''We can't create jobs for people, regrettably, like the railways used to do, and employ some people who are now unemployable. We can't do that. That's no secret that that's the case.''

''We can't expend money in an effort to support businesses that maybe aren't working as efficiently as they could be. Now, I don't know if that is the case or not, but certainly we're not in a position to do that,'' Mr Menzies said.

PSO chief executive Gillian Bremner said she was ''baffled'' by the inference she gleaned from Mr Menzies' comments, as PSO would have carried out the contract within available funding.

Brief feedback received from board management on the unsuccessful application made no mention of pricing, Mrs Bremner said.

Caregivers and Related Employees staff advocate Mike Hanifin said the public were welcome to join staff on their rally if they wished to show support. He was struck by how many people were approaching him in the community to voice their feelings about the unfairness of the decision.

One of the three chosen providers for the new service, Royal District Nursing Service New Zealand, has not previously provided services outside Auckland. Its Australian parent organisation's 2012 annual report says plans for expanding its New Zealand operation are progressing well.

eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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