The sacked Health NZ chair has disclosed the agency is preparing a full restructuring proposal that will impact a lot of its 80,000 staff, as well as contractors and staff in funded agencies.

Writing for Newsroom Pro, Rob Campbell says there remains extensive waste across the system. Some of it already existed in the old district health boards; some is a result of duplication when the Government merged the 20 boards in the gigantic new agency, Te Whatu Ora.

“The plan for eliminating this has to be put into action now along with the disestablishment of many hundreds of overhead roles,” he argues. “This is capable now of creating room for a shift of hundreds of millions of dollars from overhead to frontline expenditure. There will be future waves of such change but the first big shift must happen now.”

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This week, Health Minister Ayesha Verrall dismissed Rob Campbell as chair because of comments he made on social media network LinkedIn, describing National Party leader Christopher Luxon’s Three Waters reform policy as a “thinly disguised dog whistle on co-governance”.

The Public Service Act 2020 requires public servants – including Crown entity board members – to act in a politically neutral manner.

Campbell says that’s been interpreted too restrictively, that he’s been denied due process, and that his sacking is really the culmination of a series of disagreements with ministers over public health priorities like clamping down on alcohol harm, and the need to embed co-governance in healthcare.

“It’s way too early to be talking about job losses. We need to be investing in people not removing them.”
– Kerry Davies, Public Service Association

Te Whatu Ora provided Newsroom with a statement after 9pm on Thursday night. It says the restructuring proposal has not yet gone out to consultation.

“Te Whatu Ora is committed to supporting our people as we work to deliver better, more equitable care for New Zealanders,” says chief executive Margie Apa.

“Over the course of 2023, we will be working to deliver on the promise of reforms by continuing to unify, simplify and integrate our team of teams for the benefit of whānau and communities. Our proposals are not yet finalised and we do not have any further information to share publicly until we have started our discussions with our people.”

Campbell says staff who have followed communications will be aware that the changes will come, and there will be lots of consultation.

“It is a full restructuring proposal impacting a lot of people,” he explains, in response to questions from Newsroom. 

“It was always inevitable in the combination of the many agencies and the objective of more efficient operation. Clinical roles might change at some levels but frontline clinical and support staff are where we need more people not less.”

Other staff will be “reluctantly transferred” into new roles, which he admits will be a substantive culture problem now, and into the future.

Campbell was a unionist, before becoming a professional director. Newsroom asked how he handles the experience of ordering redundancies. 

“I hate it,” he replies. “Anyone who has to do it and does not hate it has no respect from me. But they do happen, even within unions.”

In his Newsroom article, he says Te Whatu Ora has not yet been able to resolve recruitment, retention and pay anomalies across the wider health system, with something like a quarter of a million roles. “Much faster progress is required on pay equity, pay parity and other outstanding claims,” he says. “This will require more government funding now, but it will substitute for more funding later in rectification and costs being met in care standards and staff stress.

“Equally important is that the historical relationships with staff, their professional organisations, and (critically) their unions must be swiftly enhanced. The immediate need is for genuine partnership to do this together not in negotiation, arbitration or even consultation. Together means together in partnership.”

On Friday afternoon, the Public Service Association Te Pūkenga Here Tikanga Mahi responded to Campbell’s comments to Newsroom.

Te Whatu Ora must ensure workers are fully involved in the restructure of the health system if the reforms are to deliver the world class health services New Zealanders expect, says PSA National Secretary Kerry Davies.

“Workers are the ones who have the intimate knowledge to critique and improve the sector’s operational delivery models,” she says. “:They know what’s working and what’s not so it’s critical that the next stage of reforms fully involves them.”

“We sought and received assurances early on to this effect and now Te Whatu Ora must walk the talk as it begins developing and implementing the new systems.

“While some redundancies are inevitable as the 20 District Health Boards are merged into a single national health service, it’s way too early to be talking about job losses. We need to be investing in people not removing them.

“Our members will not stand by as decisions are made and we will be holding Te Whatu Ora to account for the reassurances it has already made,” she adds. “The PSA will also be engaging with Te Whatu Ora to ensure there is sufficient and appropriate support for all workers through this challenging time for the sector.”

Newsroom Pro managing editor Jonathan Milne covers business, politics and the economy.

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