Health board progress or platitudes?

What should be made of the ''work plan'' released this week by the commissioner team running the Southern District Health Board?

It seems extraordinary a ''work plan'' that took four months to draw up is only one page long and includes next to no details.

Instead, it emphasises culture change, better data use, investing to save money, openness and transparency, listening to staff and improving performance in key health targets.

No-one should dispute these aims.

They are worthy and change is necessary in an organisation where staff feel under siege, where people are tired of the pressures, where morale is rocky.

Interestingly, the reactions of the unions are positive, with Nurses Organisation organiser Lorraine Lobb saying fears of ''slashing and burning'' have been put to rest. Let us hope so.

But given the vagueness of the document and the potential for substantial changes in services that could come via the Southern Partnership Group, which is responsible for working towards a hospital rebuild, one wonders just how assured Ms Lobb really is.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Ian Powell, meanwhile, said the document was positive and would ''resonate'' with staff, but he wanted more detail about how the changes would happen.

Fundamentally, four months down the track, everyone is still in wait-and-see mode and hoping for the best.

The Government has put the commissioners in place and, therefore, has a vested interest in their success.

That, at least, is encouraging and there could well be money to ''invest to save''.

The rest of us, anxious about the quality and range of southern health services, are also prepared to give the commissioners the benefit of any doubt for as long as possible.

It is hard, however, to see much progress or detail in this so-called ''work plan''.

Of course patients should be ''at the centre'' of everything the board does as the docu,emt says.

The list of principles are admirable. But with words like ensure, focus, develop and statements about being ''transparent'' in decision making, being ''visible and connected'' to staff, being ''in the community'', the plan looks more like a mission statement with supporting principles.

It even verges, a sceptic might say, on reading like a staff and community public relations document largely applicable to any government ministry or department.

There are a list of ''key performance targets'' which include agreeing on and achieving a budget, and progress on capital works, on lifting performance, on district wide services, on realigning models of care and planning.

Again, the so-called ''specific outcomes'' envisaged by December next year hardly seem specific.

These begin with agreeing and achieving the 2015/16 budget and agreeing the 2016/17 budget.

That would be expected of any organisation as a matter of course.

The health board is a complex organisation with many interacting elements.

For that reason, and given the board's history, no-one should under-estimate the challenges ahead.

Perhaps, it is therefore unreasonable to expect much from this first stage of commissioner involvement.

And it does seem the commissioners are trying to pick up ideas on what works best from other health organisations and emphasising culture change.

Kathy Grant has said this needed to come from the ''ground up'', and again this is a meritorious view.

How, though, will this work in practice?

The part-time commissioners are hampered because some key senior board roles are vacant, and this is recognised in the ''building blocks'' section of the work plan.

But time marches on and, as Mr Powell said, ''it is getting to the stage where they need to start getting runs on the board''.

After four months and direct payments of many tens of thousands of dollars to the commissioners, this much-anticipated document, ''Owning Our Future'', is vague and disappointing.

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