Health wrangle - the timeline

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 following timeline.

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 2011.

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 records concerned''.

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 says.

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 discussions.

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 other operations.)

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 from NHB.

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 services''.

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 been received.

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 dispute.

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.

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