|Plenty for new board to tackle|
Thursday, 15 August 2019 Opinion Editorial
It is just as well so many people think they can remedy what ails the Southern District Health Board, because the organisation has a plethora of things wrong with it.
With less than a day to go until nominations close for the upcoming board election - the first since then-Health Minister Jonathan Coleman unceremoniously dumped the board in 2015 - 24 brave souls had put their names forward for the seven positions available.
It is an intriguing mix of nominees from a wide range of backgrounds, both in health and in administration.
When it takes over from the current commissioner team at the end of the year, the new board will, to use health parlance, need to be practising at the top of its scope.
First and foremost, it will need to get to grips with a deficit which threatens to dwarf that which led to the previously elected board being given its marching orders.
In 2015, the SDHB was $27million in the red and forecast to reach $42million.
As of May this year, the SDHB has a $40million deficit; with a range of assorted one-off costs such as payments to meet Holidays Act requirements looming, the June figure is expected to be much larger.
In December, when Health Minister David Clark signed off a $40.3million "equity support" payment to the SDHB, the funding came with a stern reminder that he expected the board to operate within its current funding.
Along with the funding came additional administrative support from the Ministry of Health to help draw up a financial recovery plan for the SDHB.
Current evidence suggests the vital signs on that patient chart are of grave concern.
A new board can hardly be expected to perform a miracle immediately, but that may well be what it is asked to do.
As if that was not enough to be going on with, the SDHB continues to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, as issue after issue arises.
Just this week, the Otago Daily Times has revealed clinicians in the gastroenterology department are at war with each other and an independent surgeon has had to be brought in to play peacemaker.
This comes in the wake of a damning report into the board's management of colorectal cancer, which highlighted a "toxic culture" in the department, and said an over-rationing of colonoscopy had lead to patient harm.
Last week, MPs weighed in, via the medium of a report by Parliament's health select committee into maternity service provision at Lumsden.
The SDHB was strongly criticised for not having replacement services ready for mothers and babies when promised, and MPs said the board had lost the confidence of the local community.
Other issues potentially leaving Otago and Southland residents needing reassurance include waiting lists, problems delivering timely cancer treatment, the ongoing struggle to provide fulltime neurosurgery services, staff unhappiness and shortages in the allied health workforce, and whether the outdated current Dunedin Hospital can be kept limping along until the new $1.4billion building is ready to receive patients.
The new hospital project is one bright light on the horizon.
Funding for the project has been guaranteed by the Government, but as things stand now, any future SDHB board member must be wondering how the organisation will be able to afford to run the building and the services within.
Whoever is elected to the board in October can be supported by up to four additional members nominated by the Minister of Health.
Those people will need to be carefully selected, as will the board chairman and deputy.
The whole board will then need to be given the time and the resources needed to restore both the SDHB's balance sheet and the wavering trust of the people it is there to serve.
Dr Malcolm Macpherson for the SDHB