Manawatu Standard

Vestiges of democracy lost in reform

- Janine Rankin

A couple who campaigned for improvemen­ts to Midcentral Health’s mental health facilities are worried about the demise of district health boards in the Government’s health reforms.

The Government announced this week all 20 boards with amix of appointed and democratic­allyelecte­d members would be disbanded, their powers transferre­d to one central body, Health New Zealand.

Bay of Plenty couple Owen and Carey Hume’s daughter Erica died in 2014 after being an in-patient at Palmerston North Hospital’s mental health ward.

It was only through public meetings and order papers for the board’s main committee meetings that they found out what was being reported about her death, and were able to keep abreast of failings and attempts at improvemen­ts to services.

They said they were worried about the voice of local people being lost with the reforms.

‘‘There go the last vestiges of public reporting and accountabi­lity.’’

They had become regular watchdogs and advocates for the new mental health ward, soon to be built, because meetings and agendas were publicly accessible.

‘‘The voice of local people is now going to be totally lost – as it is hard to believe that there will be time for anyone to make presentati­ons or representa­tions to a regional authority, let alone the national body,’’ Carey Hume said.

It would be more important than ever that any new organisati­on had high-calibre public reporting and true transparen­cy about health services and service quality, they said.

Palmerston North mayor Grant Smith predicted it would be part of his job to advocate to ensure the city got its share of

health dollars following the Government’s reforms.

Smith said while he supported the general thrust of the reforms, he was ‘‘a little bit shocked’’ that the district health boards would be abolished rather than amalgamate­d.

He had assumed Palmerston North, as the centre for regional cancer treatment and some other specialist health services for its neighbours, would have been well-placed to become a regional centre.

‘‘It’s such a big sector for us.’’ Healthcare and social assistance made up 12.7 per cent of the city’s annual earnings, employing 8040 people, according to February 2019 figures in the city council’s sector profile update.

Palmerston North and Crest Hospitals employed 2606 of those people. Smith said his concern about health spending was to ensure everyone living in Palmerston North was actually counted in the funding formula.

While the district health board’s locality plan for Palmerston North put the population at 84,639 based on 2018 census statistics, updated to 90,400 in June 2020, Smith said the real figure was much higher.

‘‘We have Palmerston North’s population around 97,000 and growing, but officials in Wellington have us at 90,000 and slowing. We know that is not correct.’’

Smith said it would be part of his job to get the population figures updated.

Board chief executive Kathryn Cook confirmed after the reforms were announced that work on Palmerston North Hospital’s surgical services block improvemen­ts and building of the new mental health ward would continue.

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