Bud­get blowout by health boards wors­ens

The Dominion Post - - News - KATA­RINA WIL­LIAMS

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.’’

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