It is obvious that the Crown Monitor, and the Chair of CDHB, have been given a task to perform. The OIA referred to is the start of the process is in order that I can prove a hunch about this description of their task.
The Crown Monitor and the Chair appear to have complied with whatever their briefing was, with impressive zeal. I was sent an article which, despite pouring over Newsrooms articles every day, I missed at the time it was published.
Superb investigative journalist, David Williams writes
In a closed-door meeting in March, as a pandemic loomed, DHB bosses were pushed on the deficit.
Barely had the doors closed, excluding the public, when a clutch of clinicians and executives spelt out, starkly, the threat from Covid-19 to Canterbury’s district health board.
It was March 19, a Thursday. Canterbury already had its first coronavirus case and community-based testing stations had been set up. Local public health officials were part of embryonic national contact-tracing efforts.
“We are dealing with the biggest health challenge in 100 years,” Dr Josh Freeman – the DHB’s clinical director of microbiology, and a member of the infection, prevention and control executive committee – told board members. “If it is just left to run its course, the burden on the health system would be catastrophic.”
So, how did the Board respond, according to David Williams?
But on that Thursday, the closed-doors board meeting in Christchurch would prove crucial in a different way. It marked a rending of the relationship between the board, and senior leaders and clinicians. Months later, seven of 11 executives, including chief executive David Meates, resigned in a matter of weeks.
One person who attended the March 19 meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity, accuses the board of not taking Covid-19 seriously enough, despite the concerns explicitly raised by clinicians as the global pandemic’s grip tightened.
“The board chair and Crown monitor were very clear that the primary focus of the DHB was to be on the deficit and finances, and that Covid-19 was likely to have a limited impact on how the DHB would operate,” they said.
As he did last month, board chair Sir John Hansen respectfully declined to answer Newsroom’s questions. “He has no comment to make,” the health board said yesterday. Crown monitor Lester Levy couldn’t be reached, via the Health Ministry, for comment.
Health Minister Chris Hipkins met the DHB and unions in Christchurch. He told Stuff he had full confidence in the board – a continuation of his view from August – and warned “living within means is going to be necessary”. “We can’t continue to pour more money in an unlimited way, we do have to get the DHB back into a sustainable position.”
These statements assume that the Ministry is correct. It also assumes that the CDHB was wrong. Big time. Does it suggest that the Minister takes the advice of MOH without question? If he does then that is worrying. If he questions things, he surely doesn’t bend much in public when discussing it.
What we are doing right now is checking whether both of the assumptions above were correct. We think the Minister is getting the wrong advice, and then acting on it.
What worries me is that the Chair and the Crown monitor, both really strong people used to getting their own way, are dancing to a tune written by MOH and Treasury for the DHB system. The Prime Minister repeatedly said during the election campaign that the DHB’s are a system which is “broken”. The way that the MOH and Treasury are behaving seems to refute that Prime Ministerial description.
The deficit has become THE issue in the minds of the MOH, Treasury, the Crown Monitor and the CDHB Board Chair. Not whether or not the CDHB was operating an exciting new way of delivering health services to our region. Money has become more important than delivering health services to people in a humane and caring manner. If you still need convincing then read this copy of the Board minutes, again reported by David Williams:
Levy, the Crown monitor, appointed in June last year to help the DHB reduce its deficit, leapt in. He asked why management would think this plan would be approved if the previous two hadn’t. “What is different about this plan?”
He would have liked to see a “turnaround plan” – “particularly in view of the size of the deficit”.
Macfarlane said what was proposed wasn’t out of line with the Minister’s letter of expectations, with the only outstanding section being the financials. Meates commented the plan showed savings of $187 million over the next four years, which had been discussed at operations meetings between the Health Ministry and Canterbury DHB.
A crucial exchange followed, which is worth quoting in full.
“The chief executive commented that the board needs to understand the seriousness of the situation this country is facing in respect of Covid-19 and the focus of management and the organisation will go onto this, which is the direction he has received from the Minister of Health.
“The chair commented that this board remains responsible to the Minister of Health for the finances of this DHB, with management being responsible to the board.”
Our insider source says clinicians were incredulous the board didn’t seem to take Covid-19 seriously enough. “The board seemed to be completely out of their depth.”
Here’s the article: