Nth Island health board rejects Compass food plan

A North Island health board has thrown out the controversial hospital food plan that caused concern and division in the South.

Hawkes Bay District Health Board rejected the Compass Group food outsourcing being pushed by the Government entity Health Benefits Ltd.

The rejection could affect the Southern District Health Board because the number of boards in the scheme has an effect on the savings that can be delivered by the company under a national contract.

Labour's health spokeswoman, Annette King, said the decision left the Government with ‘‘egg on its face''.

‘‘The proposal, which would see food cooked and chilled in Auckland before being transported around the country to be reheated, was supposedly about saving money.

‘‘However, if health boards refuse to opt into the scheme the economics don't stack up. Rejecting the plan costs them financially.

‘‘In an environment where every dollar counts, that amounts to bullying,'' Ms King said.

Boards must pay their share of the $4.1 million business case for the programme, even if they opt out.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman declined to comment.

Earlier this month, HBL said Southern had joined the Tairawhiti, Auckland, Counties Manukau and Waitemata DHBs in the programme.

Hawkes Bay is the first board to reject the proposal, but senior management at Waikato advised their board to wait and see how it operated in other areas.

Earlier this month, the SDHB voted to outsource Southern's food service after facing down an acrimonious public.

Yesterday, the board released, under the Official Information Act, an alternative press release it had prepared in case the outcome had been different.

The never-used statement said the board ‘‘looked at all of the information'' and decided not to proceed. It said the board would start to work with kitchen staff and suppliers to find alternative cost savings.

‘‘This has been a difficult time for those staff affected by the proposal and I would like to thank them for their patience and their input into our consultation process,'' board chairman Joe Butterfield said in the alternative statement.

The board hopes to save $1 million a year under the Compass proposal, excluding implementation costs. It earlier used a figure of $7 million over 15 years, but said later that had been too conservative.

Just two board members, Mary Gamble and Dr John Chambers, voted against the proposal.

eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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