Christchurch’s health services are under siege and the DHB’s financial issues have seen vital management team members leave. What is going on? 

Christchurch is gearing up to open its shiny new hospital – the country’s largest – in November, but lurking beneath is a leadership team at loggerheads.

There have been five shock resignations from the top levels at the Canterbury and West Coast DHB in just one month.

Today The Detail talks to former Press reporter Oliver Lewis about the reasons behind the executive management resignations and why the rest of New Zealand should care.

The first to go was the chief people officer Michael Frampton in July, but this month the exodus really started.

In three consecutive days from August 3, the DHB’s planning, funding and decision support executive director Carolyn Gullery, chief executive David Meates and the chief financial officer Justine White, all resigned.

Last Friday the chief medical officer Sue Nightingale – the leader of the region’s Covid-19 response – quit.

“I don’t really know if you can look at that and say that is a coincidence,” says Lewis.

“As the senior doctors’ union has pointed out, it looks more like an implosion and there has been … serious concerns about the relationship between the board and the executive management team.”

Lewis says while the board has rejected suggestions there are difficulties in the relationship, sources tell him that the two sides aren’t seeing eye to eye about how to go about cost cutting measures.

The Canterbury DHB has the biggest deficit in the country at about $180 million.

Lewis says the board is zoned in on trying to break even while the executive management team is worried the cuts are too much, too soon.

Last month the team put forward a proposal of $56m in savings for the next financial year but that was turned down by the board who wanted more.

Lewis also speaks to The Detail about how the 2011 earthquakes led to the massive deficit at the Canterbury DHB.

The DHB was forced to demolish 44 buildings and it was left with many more that needed repairs.

“It’s embarked on this rebuild process for about a decade so you’ve got all these new facilities coming online which have cost hundreds of millions of dollars. When you get new buildings, you attract higher rates of depreciation and capital charges,” says Lewis.

We look at what that means and why it has contributed to the deficit despite extra government funding.

Lewis says there’s also ongoing tension between the Canterbury DHB and the Ministry of Health, despite independent facilitators coming in to try and bridge the relationship.

He talks about a desperate letter to the Prime Minister, shaky staff morale and the big vacuum of leadership at the country’s second-largest DHB with Covid-19 still looming over our heads.

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

Jessie Chiang is the associate producer of The Detail podcast.

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