Finance on new SDHB agenda

David Clark. Photo: NZ Herald
David Clark. Photo: NZ Herald
Shorter waiting times for CT scans and a new linear accelerator to administer radiation therapy are on the agenda for the new Southern District Health Board to consider when it sits for the first time today.

The new board also has a stern instruction from the Health Minister David Clark: improve the parlous state of its finances.

A report to the board said Dunedin Hospital’s CT scanning performance was low compared with Southland Hospital, and its high waiting times did not achieve Ministry of Health targets.

Dunedin patients wait an average 76 days for a scan, while Southland patients wait an average 27 days, executive services director Patrick Ng’s report said.

Centralised booking and scheduling of CT scans was not technically possible, and Dunedin has had vacancies for radiologists for some years.

The board would be asked to consider a range of short and long term solutions.

‘‘It is important to note that none of the financial implications of implementing either the short or long-term solutions are currently in either the budget or the forecast,’’ Mr Ng said.

Financial matters will be uppermost in the minds of the new board, which was elected in October to replace commissioners put in place by former health minister Jonathan Coleman.

Mr Coleman fired the then-SDHB in 2015 because of its soaring deficit.

Among the papers for the board’s first meeting, in Dunedin today, is a letter from Dr Clark in which he approved the SDHB’s annual plan, but also set ‘‘very clear’’ expectations for financial improvement.

Dr Clark pointedly refused to approve any proposals for service changes, or the SDHB’s budget predictions for an improvement in its financial position.

‘‘It is critical that a strong and deliberate approach to out-year financial plans, including your operating revenue, expenditure budgets, and specific sustainable savings plans,’’ he said.

He also warned there was no guarantee any future request from the SDHB for financial support would be approved.

‘‘Signalling the need for equity in the annual plan does not imply that an equity request will be approved.

‘‘The available equity is limited and applications for equity support will be subject to a rigorous prioritisation and approval process.’’

To the year ended June 2019, the SDHB recorded an $85.8million deficit — a figure inflated by one-off costs such as Holiday Act compliance.

The agenda reveals it is now running at $22.5million, a number chief executive Chris Fleming said was high but an improvement on the same period last year, for which the deficit was $25.9 million.

‘‘Overall, the financial position is extremely challenging ... Southern’s (position) had improved, however it was still the fifth highest deficit among the DHBs.’’

Reports showed the board’s precarious financial situation was far from the only issue for it to consider.

Also on today’s agenda are details of a $1million capital funding request to improve linear accelerator services.

Issues with an inconsistent power supply affected the accuracy of cancer radiation treatment for much of last year, and the ministry has previously said it would help the SDHB get its technology fully commissioned.

Mr Fleming’s report also noted that building work intended to improve waiting times at Dunedin and Southland Hospital emergency departments was unlikely to start this year.

‘‘The medical assessment unit won’t be built next winter in Dunedin, and there is unlikely to be any build work completed at Southland, either,’’ he said.

‘‘A good understanding is required in terms of the underlying capacity required at Southland, given the high presentations there relative to the rest of the country.’’

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

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