Budget blowout by health boards worsens
The country’s 20 district health boards (DHBs) have been catapulted deeper into the red, with debt levels rising by almost $100 million since May.
The claim of a $154m budget blowout comes from Health Minister David Clark, as briefing papers from the Ministry of Health were publicly released yesterday – just days after the country’s directorgeneral of health, Chai Chuah, tendered his resignation.
The combined bottom line of all district health boards (DHBs) took a hammering in the past financial year, with debt levels twice the $58m loss forecast back in October 2016.
‘‘The growth in DHB debt is deeply concerning, and cannot be allowed to continue,’’ Clark said.
He promised to funnel more resources into public health to ease the escalating financial pressure on the boards.
‘‘The previous Government under-resourced the health system ... that said, I have also sent a clear signal to DHBs that they need to live within their budgets.’’
Capital & Coast was among the most debt-striken DHBs, with outgoing chief executive Debbie Chin confirming in June that it had run at a loss for 20 years.
The Wellington-based health authority posted a loss of $28m in the last financial year, eclipsed only by the cash-strapped Canterbury DHB, which over-ran its budget by $51.8m.
In the weeks before September’s general election, former health minister Jonathan Coleman refused to release DHB figures for July and August.
Coleman, who had the budget data in his possession, opted to withhold this information, despite The Dominion Post arguing that its release was in the public’s interest.
At the time, Coleman indicated it was likely to be publicly available on October 19 but yesterday the documents were still unavailable.
Clark has now been tasked with softening the blow of the $154m shortfall. ‘‘New Zealanders were told in May 2017 to expect DHB debt deficits of $47.5m. In four short months, this has ballooned to $154m,’’ he said.
Each government department is required to produce briefing papers every time a new minister comes on board.
In its papers, the Ministry of Health called for better understanding of the cost pressures associated with delivering health services. It said increasing that understanding would allow it to ‘‘improve effectiveness, productivity and efficiency, and reduce waste.’’