An ''intimidatory'' threat of disciplinary action against
a Dunedin Hospital doctor has been dropped after months of
negotiations with the Southern District Health Board, his union
The senior doctors' union is claiming a win from the dispute,
saying a decision to increase specialist staffing in the
emergency department (ED) is thanks to Dr John Chambers and
his colleagues' advocacy.
''It's been a long battle for them, and they've succeeded,''
Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) executive
director Ian Powell said.
Dr Chambers, an ED specialist, has faced a possible formal
first warning for last year publicly criticising comments by
the board's chief executive over the department's
difficulties. He was speaking as a union representative, and
the discipline threat sparked concern in the medical
community, and led to questions in Parliament of Health
Minister Tony Ryall.
Health board medical directorate acting medical director
Brendon Rae, in an email, indicated the board was in the
process of adding 2.9 full-time equivalent specialists to the
department. It brought the specialist staffing level to 11
''This was done following work last year looking at
patient patterns and staff rosters,'' Dr Rae said. Last August,
nine ED specialists wrote to chief executive Carole Heatly to
warn the department needed more specialists to cope with the
addition of a 10-bed observation unit, which the board rejected
at the time.
The board was close to appointing a clinical leader for the
department, a position vacant for nearly a year after
specialist Dr Tim Kerruish stepped down in protest over
The board referred questions about Dr Chambers to the union.
Mr Powell, in a union newsletter, said while the situation
should never have arisen, it led to the positive outcome of
''If there is any consolation the persistent efforts and
advocacy by himself and his colleagues has borne fruit with a
subsequent agreement reached to improve staffing levels in
the emergency department.''
The board had appeared to believe it was under pressure from
the Government to take a hard line with Dr Chambers and the
union, Mr Powell said.
''This would help explain why the DHB's behaviour was like a
possum in the headlights.''
Dr Chambers said, when contacted, he was happy the board made
the ''correct decision'' after prolonged deliberation.