SDHB media comment freeing up

Loosening the restrictions on media comment at the Southern District Health Board is on the cards as it seeks to improve its public image.

The board's communications team lost two senior members last month, and a senior Canterbury public relations official was flown to Dunedin three times in just over a week to help manage the recent asbestos scare.

Commissioner Kathy Grant said the expertise of Karalyn van Deursen had been ''invaluable'' in helping the communications office through a difficult time.

The board has kept a tight rein on media contact, and even mundane queries trigger time-consuming sign-off protocols involving senior management and Mrs Grant.

That needed to change, Mrs Grant said this week.

''We need to be far more upfront and engaging.''

The board is recruiting for two communications roles, including a head of communication.

That role will be paid between $130,000 and $145,000, the Otago Daily Times understands.

Mrs Grant said she could not comment on the salary, as she did not have information about it.

Communication had to improve both internally and externally, she said.

''There is a general recognition that I don't think we are as effective as we need to be, both in communication with our 4500 staff, and the way in which we communicate with our stakeholders and with the public.''

After the changes, there would still need be some restrictions, she said.

''That [will not mean] the ability to ring up any staff member, and ask for a comment about anything.

''That is never going to be the scenario, but I think that there are ways in which we can have a far more effective dialogue,'' Mrs Grant said.

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