The chairmen of two southern health entities locked in a
multimillion-dollar dispute are talking in a fresh attempt to
resolve the wrangle.
Southern District Health Board chairman Joe Butterfield
confirmed yesterday he was speaking with South Link Health
(SLH) chairman Dr Dean Millar-Coote.
Hopes for a commercial settlement appeared to have been
extinguished last month when it was revealed the dispute
could involve fraud.
The disclosure of historic legal advice advising of the
possibility prompted SLH executive director Dr Murray Tilyard
to say it effectively ended mediation.
SLH denies it has done anything wrong, or owes any money.
Mr Butterfield said yesterday: ''I have been in discussion
with South Link Health's chairman.
''It's fair to say that the chairman of South Link Health and
I recognise that there needs to be discussions to resolve
Mr Butterfield declined to comment on the form negotiations
would take, saying: ''That's all to develop''.
Contacted by email, Dr Millar-Coote said: ''I can confirm
that Joe [Butterfield] and I are discussing the issue with a
view to resolving it''.
''At this stage, it is the two of us talking to establish a
mechanism for resolving the dispute.''
He confirmed Mr Butterfield initiated the talks on February
20, the day after a health select committee hearing in
Wellington at which the legal advice was revealed, putting a
public spotlight on the dispute.
Board member Richard Thomson, who alerted the Auditor-general
last year in frustration at years of inaction, yesterday
welcomed news of renewed discussions.
''There are lots of questions ... but I've been pretty clear
through the whole process that if we could resolve this
through mediation or through discussion that would be by far
the best way to go.
''It has proved unsuccessful to date, so if there is now as a
result of the publicity to be a further attempt at that, then
I welcome that.''
Questions have emerged about why the Ministry of Health, then
Crown monitor Stuart McLauchlan and Health Minister Tony
Ryall were unaware until recently of legal advice obtained in
November 2010 that the dispute could involve fraud.
Last month, the Southern District Health Board engaged a
forensic accountant to examine the matter, but has declined
to answer questions about it.
Speaking to the Otago Daily Times on Monday, New
Zealand Taxpayers' Union executive director Jordan Williams
said he could not understand the apparent lack of action.
''It seems unbelievable this slipped through the cracks at
the Ministry [of Health]. The minister [Tony Ryall] should at
least be asking why that was the case. If they can't answer
those questions, if they hadn't got that legal advice, how
did that happen?
''Something that large [in monetary terms], and the political
sensitivity, and the history in the deep South [of health
fraud], why wasn't this the top of the agenda?''
The dispute initially involved about $5.3 million from
savings in 1990s-era South Island-wide laboratory and
It is thought now to be possibly worth about $15 million,
with the effect of interest.
SLH, a Dunedin-based independent practitioner association,
was entitled to spend the savings, but had to have specific
approval for the primary health programmes, and the parties
differ on whether that was given.