Three and-a-half years have passed since the Southern
District Health Board called on the Ministry of Health to
investigate its still unresolved multimillion-dollar dispute
with South Link Health. The events are set out in the
March 14, 2014 Acting Director General of Health Phil
Knipe says access restrictions to Christchurch buildings in
2011 and the ''inability to access records'' had a
significant impact on the work flow of the Audit and
Compliance Unit which had been asked to investigate the
dispute between South Link Health (SLH) and the Southern
District Health Board.
March/April 2014 Former SDHB chief executive Brian
Rousseau, now living in Australia, is adamant at the time of
the February 2011 earthquake the only information provided by
the DHB to the Audit and Compliance unit was in electronic
form and could have been re-sourced. Physical records were
held in Dunedin ready for the unit to arrange an inspection,
after which it was anticipated any files required would be
transferred to the unit so the investigation could begin.
That had not occurred before he left the board in September
April 1 The Ministry of Health advises manual records
rather than electronic records relating to the SLH dispute
had been holed up in the earthquake-affected building.
May 30 Records relating to the dispute were retrieved
from the earthquake ravaged building, Charles Luney House, in
the ``latter part of 2011'', the Ministry says. Questions
about what the files were are ignored.
June 5 Following intervention from the Office of the
Ombudsman, the ministry says ``for ease of reference the
ministry can confirm that there were manual records that
relate to the dispute held in the Christchurch office at the
time of the earthquake, the ministry can't be more specific
about the records held, since no log was kept offsite of the
July 1 Deputy Director General of Health (Corporate
Services) Barbara Phillips, in response to further questions,
says she can confirm the Audit and Compliance unit had
assembled various hard copy documents such as copies of
relevant contracts, mediation documentation as well as
working notes by its staff relating to the dispute. On
reviewing correspondence ``it appears likely that most of the
background documentation was provided to the ministry by
SDHB's lawyers''. A draft of the letter (presumably attached
inadvertently to her final version) shows she was relying on
a January 21, 2011, email sent from lawyer Sally McMillan
(acting for the DHB) to National Health Board director
Michael Hundleby saying she had two boxes of source documents
to provide. Notes on the draft say departure of key staff and
the ``passage of time'' meant that while documents would have
come from the DHB, staff ``can't definitively confirm who
supplied them from SDHB and when''. In response further
questions were asked including why, despite there being no
log of the documents, couldn't staff actually see the
retrieved documents. Have these documents now disappeared?
July 29 Ms Phillips says the ministry's audit and
compliance staff who had dealt with this matter in 2011 and
2012 were no longer employed by the ministry ``and the
ministry holds no further information about the handling of
the records from that provided in previous responses''. No
response has yet been received to further questions.
August 1 Southern District Health board, responding to
July 3 questions on the mystery documents says it ``can
confirm that `boxes of documents' referred to by Sally
McMillan in an email to Michael Hundleby were not sent to the
Ministry at any stage''.
AND THERE'S MORE
Events after the dispute are referred to the audit and
compliance unit for investigation in December 2010.
February 2011: Charles Luney House in Christchurch,
home of the Ministry of Health's audit and compliance unit,
is damaged in the earthquake. Staff lose access to the
building and files within.
June 2011: Attempts to retrieve records from Charles
Luney House fail. Preliminary inquiries begin with the DHB
and South Link Health representatives, the Ministry of Health
September 2011: The ministry's National Health Board
(NHB) writes to SLH seeking a without prejudice meeting.
November 2011: The ministry conducts face-to face
meetings with SLH representatives involving without prejudice
Last quarter of 2011: The audit and compliance unit
reviews documentation provided to it ``to obtain background
information that might assist with negotiations'' between the
parties. The documentation is not described. At some point
documents are retrieved from the earthquake damaged building.
2012: The ministry says the work described above
continues _ it includes phone calls, emails and face-to-face
meetings ``internal to the ministry/DHB''. (Requests for a
log of the dates on which contact occurred between the
parties and the type of interaction involved were denied by
the ministry because of the work involved and the effect on
March 2013: DHB writes to NHB director expressing
concern about the time it is taking to ``resolve the issue''
and seeking a response date.
April, May, June, and July 2013: DHB closed-session
minutes show continuing concern, apparently without response
August 2013: Further without prejudice discussion held
with SLH representatives facilitated by the NHB. DHB members
informed this is to happen.
September 2013: DHB members told a meeting has been
held with NHB director Michael Hundleby and SLH executive
director Prof Murray Tilyard at which it was agreed a further
meeting would be held to ``identify where some of the
retained earnings could be invested in the DHB to improve
October 2013: Audit New Zealand tells DHB to refer the
dispute to police if it considers there is evidence of fraud
or if it considers there is no fraud it should reach an
agreement with SLH on ``future actions''.
November 2013: DHB chairman Joe Butterfield briefs
board on discussions with the NHB and advises the written
response expected from the NHB for the board meeting has not
February 2014: DHB engages a forensic accountant to
investigate the matter. This is revealed after Mr Butterfield
is questioned on the dispute before Parliament's health
select committee. The fact the board had legal advice in 2010
raising the possibility of fraud becomes public. In February
and March issues around the dispute are raised in Parliament.
March 2014: The ministry says it has provided advice
to the DHB ``in recent months'' on options available to
resolve the dispute _ that advice is not released.
March 2014: Former SDHB chief executive Brian Rousseau
expresses concern about some of the statements being made
about knowledge of the possibility of fraud. He later
releases a selection of emails from 2010 related to the
March 2014: SLH and the DHB confirm they are in talks.
August 2014: The DHB yet to receive a final report on
the issue with recommendations. It is due to meet SLH later
in the month.
* This timeline includes some information from the Ministry
of Health and Southern District Health Board released under
the Official Information Act.