Murray did not impress in Southland

Nigel Murray
Nigel Murray

Former Waikato health board chief executive Nigel Murray was a "disappointment" at the defunct Southland DHB, a former Southland board member says.

This week the Serious Fraud Office confirmed it was making preliminary inquiries into Dr Murray’s spending at Waikato District Health Board, from which he resigned last month.

An Audit NZ investigation into Dr Murray’s expenses found he took two international work trips while on sick leave, used public money for personal trips, did not declare hospitality, booked travel without approval and tried to cover up the breaches.

He spent more than half his final year out of the office on overseas and domestic trips,  The New Zealand Herald reported.

This week, Waikato DHB chairman Bob Simcock resigned after mounting pressure about his oversight of Dr Murray.

While there were no known concerns about spending when he ran the defunct Southland board, it was "fair to say" board members were not pleased, Paul  Menzies said.

It was largely due to the manner in which he left, securing a job in Canada after absenting himself from Southland for family reasons.

Dr Murray ran the Southland board from January 2006 until September 2007, initially appointed as interim chief executive after the abrupt departure of former chief executive Dr Gershu Paul.

He was appointed to the permanent role in February 2007. Mr Menzies described Dr Murray as "erudite" and "affable".

"As a Southland board we were somewhat disappointed in him.

"We expected his energies to be focused on the Southland District Health Board.

"We weren’t happy, it would be fair to say.’’Mr Menzies said Dr Murray’s manner of leaving was disappointing.

"He was visiting the United States or Canada when he should have been, in my view, putting his energies and efforts into Southland District Health Board."

He had secured a job at Fraser Health Authority in Canada after taking leave from Southland to care for a sick family member in North America.

It emerged he had been doing consultancy work for Fraser Health for several months while  employed by the then Southland board.

At the time, Dr Murray said it had been part of the recruitment process.

"I will be expecting some reimbursement for the activities associated with that, so I guess that could be construed as a form of consulting, but it’s largely related to the recruitment process while I was on leave," he said at the time.

During his time in Southland, Dr Murray had a national profile as lead negotiator for the 21 DHBs in pay talks with junior doctors and hospital nurses.

Dr Murray’s departure inadvertently helped smooth the way for the 2010 health merger between then Otago and Southland boards. Then Otago chief executive Brian Rousseau was appointed interim Southland chief after Dr Murray’s departure, before being appointed to lead the new Southern District Health Board.

Former Southland board chairman Dennis Cairns refused to comment yesterday.

"I’m not interested in any of this.

"I gave that up 10 years ago and I am not interested in going back there at all," Mr Cairns said.

In 2014, the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists warned against hiring Dr Murray to run the Waikato board.

"Our advice from Canada is that Nigel Murray has had a poor relationship with doctors there, and has run Fraser Health with a command-and-control philosophy," the union said in a 2014 press release. 

"That’s exactly what he did in New Zealand during his time at both Auckland and Southland DHBs in the 2000s.

"Further, his national leadership of collective agreement negotiations in 2006 and 2007 led to acrimonious negotiations with resident ... and senior doctors. 

"By aggressively pursuing a control-and-command agenda he provoked the former into an unprecedented week-long strike and the second into massive national stopwork meetings, which required the then health minister to intervene," the union said.

eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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