District health boards told to decide on food contract

District health board bosses were grilled in Wellington yesterday on the need to make up their minds whether to join the Compass Group food contract.

They were told to make a decision by the end of September, a spokesman for NZ Health Partnerships confirmed.

The number participating in the DHB food contract is the ‘‘key driver'' determining savings from the 15-year deal.

The Otago Daily Times was told last year a new savings figure would be ready in early 2016, but it has been repeatedly delayed.

‘‘DHBs need to decide when they want to join or if they want to join. So we're discussing with them today exactly where we want to go with the food services programme,'' the spokesman said.

The contract was drawn up by the defunct Health Benefits Ltd in the hope of saving up to $190 million over 15 years.

But only six health boards signed up, far fewer than anticipated. Dunedin South MP Clare Curran said the delay suggested the revised savings figure would not be ‘‘good news''.

She said undecided DHBs should take a lesson from Southern District Health Board's difficulties.

‘‘My advice is: ‘Don't sign','' Ms Curran said.

Earlier this year, Southern was rocked by multiple complaints, a public protest, meals on wheels cancellations, and concern over some meals being trucked frozen from Auckland.

Ms Curran said despite the situation being quieter, many people were still unhappy with the food.

The meeting had been constructive, the Health Partnerships spokesman confirmed.

‘‘Our shareholders [the DHBs] agreed that we will work together with the aim of gaining clarity on which DHBs will participate and those that won't by the end of September 2016.

‘‘There are a range of variables such as inflation and meal growth forecasts which are being re-baselined now and may be available in the next few weeks.

‘‘Ultimately, however, DHB participation is the key driver,'' the spokesman said.

NZ Health Partnerships is a DHB-owned entity set up to take over from the defunct Health Benefits Ltd. The meeting was a regular gathering of DHB chief executives and chairmen.

eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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