DHB cost-cutting methods criticised by RDA, unions

Rationale used to justify reducing bed numbers at the Southern District Health Board does not stack up and poses a clinical risk, a letter from the New Zealand Resident Doctors Association and aligned health unions to Southern District Health Board says.

RDA national secretary Dr Deborah Powell, in the letter this week, said while the board argued the move was justified because of reduced demand over summer, local temperatures were ''hardly the stuff of summer''.

From late next week, the board will start to drop 50 beds across its services for the summer months.

''You refer to summer. However, the clinical determinant of need is temperature, not what we might call the season. We note that you are in for a week of temperatures between 11 and 13degC.

''To reduce beds when the cold weather is still very much upon us poses a clinical risk,'' Dr Powell's letter said.

The RDA and aligned unions suspected the reductions would be permanent.

''How will the DHB save money on this venture if not by reducing staffing levels permanently ...?''Dr Powell was also writing on behalf of the New Zealand Medical Laboratory Workers, and the Association of Professionals and Executive Employees.

The board needs to save money and last month submitted a saving plan to the National Health Board, which the Otago Daily Times requested under the Official Information Act on October 15.

Communications director Steve Addison said yesterday the request could not processed until Monday because of staff on leave in the communications department.

And the Public Service Association (PSA) said it had convinced the board to drop a cost-saving measure it deemed unlawful, although the board told the Otago Daily Times it had not changed its approach and the union was mistaken.

Southern region organiser Julie Morton said the board had begun using fixed-term positions to fill places in services tagged for restructuring.

Some recruits were told only at the last minute the position was fixed-term.

She said the board this week acknowledged the concerns and agreed to offer affected employees permanent jobs.

''They will ensure that anyone who's been on [a fixed term] for that reason is changed into a permanent agreement ... That's an excellent result.''

Ms Morton had met Mr Addison over health board concerns about recent media coverage and the relationship between the two parties.

''Steve Addison has spoken to the PSA and has committed to try to do better with communications to us.''

She said she knew of five staff members affected by the policy but there could be more.

Patient services director Lexie O'Shea, through Mr Addison, told the ODT the board would continue recruiting staff on a fixed-term basis when there was uncertainty over the future configuration of services. She said there had been no change in position.

''We believe this to be the most sensible and fair way to manage recruitment to these vacancies.''

Chief executive Carole Heatly, through Mr Addison yesterday, said ''we have no wish to debate our approach with unions through the media''.

The board was using data from the past five years to determine where beds would be reduced.

''This is sensible management of our resources. We need to live within our means if we are to provide the community with improved health services and facilities.''

- eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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