CEO defends DHB culture

Chris Fleming. Photo: ODT files
Chris Fleming. Photo: ODT files
Southern District Health Board chief executive Chris Fleming has fired back at senior doctors’ union head Ian Powell, saying some of Dr Powell’s statements in an opinion piece published in the Otago Daily Times this week were offensive and "just not true".

In an email to all SDHB staff, a copy of which was passed on to the ODT, Mr Fleming said while he would not pretend that the organisation did not face challenges, he felt Dr Powell’s comments did a disservice to both the SDHB’s clinical and management teams.

Mr Fleming said DHB management had been characterised as "obstructive and purely reactive" and unable to work constructively with clinical leaders — both of which he denied.

"I agree with Mr Powell that we cannot afford to have a divisive culture at the DHB; and it offends me that a clinical leader would use the platform of his departure to perpetuate such a message."

Dr Powell, who is about to step down after 30 years at the helm of senior doctors’ union the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, told the ODT that some senior doctors had a "seething anger" towards SDHB management.

While he was concerned about all DHBs, he felt Southern was at "teetering point".

Service managers shared the concerns of specialists but were powerless because of "the obstructive stifling leadership culture above them," Dr Powell said.

"Demoralisation leads to a sense of impotence and a number leave. They are losses the SDHB does not need."

Mr Fleming told staff that he believed the DHB had showed a real openness to discussions with staff as it consulted on the new Dunedin hospital and the implementation of its community health strategy.

"Progress in some areas have been rapid, for example the accomplishments in developing better pathways in older people’s care.

"Other areas are more difficult – and I am thinking especially of managing demand and capacity in our emergency departments.

"But this is not the result of a lack of engagement, and in fact is an example of why collaboration remains so important: it is only through our ongoing persistence and teamwork across the system that we can possibly find sustainable solutions to this significant pressure point."

Dr Powell had raised a range of historic issues and had unfairly failed to give credit to the efforts by the SDHB and staff to address them, Mr Fleming said.

"It is my hope that his successor takes a more future-facing approach, and works with us to facilitate the success of the many initiatives that draw upon the talents of all our staff and assist us to work together better, so we can provider more health care to more people."

Dr Powell said he "absolutely" stood by his previous comments.

"I would describe his [Mr Fleming’s] response as overly defensive and lacking insight."

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