SDHB likely to be covered

Rex Ahdar.
Rex Ahdar.
University of Otago contract law specialist Prof Rex Ahdar says criteria used to select home-based support providers were probably broad enough to protect the Southern District Health Board from a legal challenge.

The board is facing public criticism from its decision to drop long-time provider Presbyterian Support Otago (PSO) from a $5.5 million annual contract for home-based services for older people.

Yesterday, a petition had gathered nearly 12,000 signatures calling on the board to reinstate PSO and its regional partner Disabilities Resource Centre Southland.

The board has insisted it will not revisit the decision to choose just three providers for its new ''restorative'' service, to be phased in from March.

Prof Ahdar said PSO's best chance of being reinstated was likely to be through a public outcry, rather than taking the issue through the court.

''It's certainly a less expensive option and possibly [the] more effective option.''

''[The criteria are] worded in a way that very much favours [the board]. As they're allowed to do, of course,'' he said.

The board issued tenderers a list of 12 criteria by which the contracts would be awarded.

''These evaluation criteria should be taken as a guide only. They are not exhaustive and not in order of priority. Weightings will be applied to these criteria. Southern DHB will determine (at their sole discretion) how the evaluation of any proposal will be undertaken,'' the evaluation criteria said.

Some tender documents spell out the actual weighting assigned to each criterion, but that was not the case in the board's document.

''They've covered themselves very well,'' Prof Ahdar said.

''Basically, it's saying in a long-winded way, ultimately it's up to us who we pick ...''

However, he emphasised he was not privy to all of the information at PSO's disposal, which might reveal flaws in the process.

Even if a court found in PSO's favour, it was likely to award compensation, rather than initiate a process to have the contract reinstated, he said.

A ''drastic'' decision would be to order a new tendering process, Prof Ahdar said.

PSO chief executive Gillian Bremner confirmed PSO's concerns about the process were wider than the evaluation criteria, but she would not elaborate until after this week's board meeting, where a decision would be made about whether to pursue legal action.

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