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In 2015-16, the ministry paid out at least $610,000 for 18 redundancy payments, and from July to November last year, it paid at least $740,000 for 10 payments, figures released under the Official Information Act show. The biggest single amount was $170,000 to $179,999.
The figures are in $10,000 bands, and the Otago Daily Times totalled them using the smaller amount. Mrs King said many experienced senior staff had been "pushed out" in a restructuring, and the ministry was struggling to provide good policy advice and leadership.
Revamped job titles, such as "chief people and transformation officer", had a corporate feel, Mrs King said.
"If you look at the names given to the directorates how can you identify where mental health is, where primary care is?" she said.
"There’s been all sorts of upheavals and unhappiness. And I know restructuring does cause that, but what I can’t work out is what was the purpose and what was it meant to achieve?"
She had received anonymous letters from senior ministry staff about what it was like to work in the "unhappy place".
"It’s remarkable; I’ve never received things like it.
"It’s a very closed shop. People are excluded from information. [The senior staff] don’t like some of the policy decisions."
Some very experienced people had departed.
"If you look at the people who have the credibility, nearly all of them have gone.
"To me it feels like we have got a very weak Ministry of Health in a state of flux with unhappy people, and we have to rely on them to provide the best possible advice to the Government."
Chief people and transformation officer Stephen Barclay said the ministry was going through changes to strengthen its performance.
"The ministry is going through an internal change programme to ensure it can deliver the refreshed New Zealand health strategy, which sets the direction for the health system over the next 10 years to improve the health of all New Zealanders.
"The number of departing staff needs to be taken in the context that the ministry employs 1100 staff and manages a total yearly budget of $16.1billion."
The Dunedin Hospital rebuild, which is being managed by the ministry, was not at risk from the changes, he said.
"The critical projects business unit within the ministry is overseeing the redevelopment of Dunedin Hospital and has not been affected by any departing staff," Mr Barclay said.