Health Minister Tony Ryall's relationship with the head
of the organisation locked in dispute with the Southern
District Health Board has been criticised by a health board
Dr Branko Sijnja, an elected member, yesterday told the Otago
Daily Times South Link Health (SLH) executive director Dr
Murray Tilyard ''bailed me up'' last November, saying Mr
Ryall consulted him on the impending health board chairman
''You don't talk about who should be up there [as chairman]
when you're in dispute with that body.
''It's like you being able to choose the judge when you're in
''I felt at the time, when I was hearing it, I thought this
was inappropriate,'' Dr Sijnja said.
It was revealed this week the board had known since 2010 that
legal advice warned the long-running funds wrangle - arising
from 1990s health contracts - might involve fraud.
Dr Sijnja believed the board was being unfairly blamed for a
lack of action, as there seemed to be a ''softly, softly
approach'' once the wrangle was referred to the Ministry of
Health audit and compliance unit in late 2010, he said. Board
members sought updates on progress, but nothing seemed to
'That's the big question now, about that 'softly, softly
approach'. Where did that come from? What was it about?''
Dr Sijnja recalled Dr Tilyard said he was given three names
for the role, one of whom Dr Tilyard advised Mr Ryall was
unsuitable, noting: ''Murray was quite keen to tell me
Dr Tilyard, when contacted by the Otago Daily Times,
said he had no recollection of talking to Mr Ryall, or to Dr
Sijnja, about the board chairman role.
He said Dr Sijnja was trying to distract from the health
board's failure to close the dispute.
Dr Tilyard reiterated SLH's denial that it owed money,
criticising serious staff and organisational issues at the
In response to an ODT query, Mr Ryall said he spoke
with Dr Tilyard ''well before November'', when the
Auditor-general told him the dispute could involve fraud.
''I spoke to a large number of people seeking suggestions for
board appointees,'' he said.
When Opposition MPs questioned Mr Ryall in Parliament this
week about when he knew about the 2010 fraud warning, he said
he did not, until November.
Labour MP Annette King, in a media statement, said it was
inappropriate for Mr Ryall to consult Dr Tilyard on the role:
''It calls his judgement into question and raises some
extremely serious questions around what role Mr Ryall has
actually played in this saga.''
Dr Sijnja was surprised Mr Ryall considered alternative
candidates, when chairman Joe Butterfield was widely expected
to be reappointed, and was, in late November.
Board chief executive Carole Heatly said this week the board
had engaged a forensic accountant to examine the matter.
2002-03: South Link Health dispute arises over surplus
funds from 1990s contracts that were agreed with the then
Southern Regional Health Authority.
2010: Southern District Health Board receives legal
advice the row might involve fraud. The matter is passed to
Ministry of Health audit and compliance unit.
November, 2013: Auditor-general alerts Health Minister
Tony Ryall the dispute might involve fraud, after board
member Richard Thomson alerted Auditor-general.
February, 2014: Southern DHB chairman Joe Butterfield
tells health select committee that legal advice in 2010
warned the dispute might involve fraud. Originally involved
$5.3 million; with interest, could now be about $15 million.