Deferring some graduate nurse places, cutting bed
numbers, and possibly reducing medical staff in a bid to save
money is a sad legacy for the outgoing Southern District Health
Board, senior doctors' union southern representative Dr John
Dr Chambers, who in addition to his Dunedin Hospital and
Association of Salaried Medical Specialists duties was
elected to the new health board in the recent election, said
serious measures were deemed necessary to stave off the
installation of a commissioner to sort out the board's
''The current board are going to have a pretty sad legacy ...
closing beds and not employing young nurses is pretty
disappointing,'' Dr Chambers said.
He understood cuts to medical staffing were also being
considered. Dr Chambers said there had been no formal
announcements, but likely measures were raised at a meeting
between management and specialists last week.
''The financial situation seems to be quite serious. And a
number of measures are being proposed - one of the
consequences of not sorting it out is a commissioner would be
appointed,'' Dr Chambers said.
This was rejected by board spokesman Steve Addison, who
believed Dr Chambers had confused the role of commissioner
with that of Crown monitor, the latter of which the board has
had for several years to oversee its financial position.
When the Otago Daily Times contacted board chairman
Joe Butterfield, he said: ''It's certainly been mentioned'',
referring to the likelihood of a commissioner.
The board had to meet its $9 million deficit set down for
this financial year to avoid outcomes such as the
installation of a commissioner, but that was nothing new, he
At the weekend, the board told student nurses nearing the end
of their course it could take no graduates to acute hospital
settings in February next year, affecting 10 places. It hoped
to defer places until the middle of the year, but the number
it could take would not be known until April at the earliest.
Even before the deferrals, the board planned to take fewer
nurse graduates next year than this year, when it took 54.
The board yesterday said 28 to 33 graduate places would be
available in settings such as mental health, primary care,
and rural health in February.
Student nurses were told by the board in a letter obtained by
the ODT the acute places would be deferred because of
''significant projects'' under way at Southland and Dunedin
While chief executive Carole Heatly yesterday maintained the
move was driven by hospital projects, chairman Mr Butterfield
acknowledged it was to save money.
Ms Heatly also said cutting bed numbers was ''simply good
management of our resources'' during the warmer months, and
was unrelated to nursing numbers. Mr Butterfield did not
think it was unfair for graduate nurses to be caught out by
the cost-saving drive.
''There are many professions where a job straight out of
qualification is not guaranteed, and people have to rumble
around for a while before they find a job.''
Otago Polytechnic communications director Mike Waddell said
the Otago Polytechnic was surprised by the deferrals,
although he emphasised graduates could apply to other health
boards, and could have opportunities overseas as well.
About 97 nurses were set to graduate from Otago Polytechnic.
Student places around New Zealand are managed by a national
applications system, to which students give their
The deadline for changing preferences was yesterday morning,
which has been extended until tomorrow for those affected by
the Southern DHB's decision.
New Zealand Nurses Organisation associate professional
services manager Hilary Graham-Smith said the union believed
the deferrals measure was not to cut costs.
''It's absolutely not a cost-cutting measure ... that's not
the story I have.''
Mrs Graham-Smith said about 160 student nurses underwent
assessment for Southern DHB places, indicating a large number
were always going to miss out.
Boards around New Zealand were finding it difficult to fund
student places, and the union wanted changes to the funding
This was necessary to ensure the nursing workforce was
supported and developed.
The financial situation is likely to be discussed at this
week's board meetings, in Dunedin, the final meetings of the