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The commissioner team at the Southern District Health Board is celebrating a better-than-expected deficit figure.
At its monthly public meeting yesterday, chief financial officer Clive Smith said the 2015-16 deficit was $1.7million better than expected.
The board had expected to post a $35.9million deficit. The figure will be subject to final adjustments.
Without an unexpected bill of $3million to clean up asbestos, the final result would have been even better, Mr Smith said.
Deputy commissioner Richard Thomson said it was gratifying to post a good result.
"We have to celebrate achievements when we see them,'' Mr Thomson said.
Chief executive Carole Heatly said it showed the benefit of "system-wide change'', which included cutting the budgets of rural hospitals.
It also reflected efforts to keep older people out of residential care, Ms Heatly said.
Ms Heatly, who has resigned and will leave the board next month, was also pleased with the board's showing in new data released this week by Health Minister Jonathan Coleman.
The board was fourth in the country for patient access to first specialist appointments.
Less favourably, papers presented at the meeting showed the board's acute readmission rate had increased, while at the same time, the average length of hospital stay reduced.
Chief medical officer Dr Nigel Millar said he did not "subscribe'' to the view that shorter hospital stays made it more likely that patients would be readmitted to hospital.
The trends were coincidental, he believed.