A Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) member says she is glad to see the back of former Health Minister Jonathan Coleman – and condemned Chai Chua’s leadership of the Ministry of Health as a “real failure”.
Jo Kane accused National of having “dropped the ball” on health in New Zealand, saying it is “ready to implode”.
Laying down the gauntlet to incoming Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, she vowed to hold her to her campaign promise to tackle the “toxic relationship” between the CDHB and the Ministry of Health (MOH).
And in a challenge to the new health minister – widely tipped to be Labour’s former health spokesman David Clark – Kane demanded they “come into Canterbury and start listening to what the problems actually are”.
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She said: “If I don’t see the next minister of health down here not long after he or she is appointed I will be very disappointed.”
The CDHB has endured a fractious relationship with both Coleman and Chua.
In July, acting chairman Mark Solomon warned of “significant service cuts of unprecedented scale” after the board was told its projected shortfall of more than $50 million for the financial year was unlikely to be approved.
The CDHB and the ministry have been involved in a long-running spat over healthcare funding, with the health board accusing the National government of providing inadequate support post-earthquake that led to a ballooning deficit.
Kane said she was “absolutely” happy to see Coleman go, saying: “I think he has been a very poor health minister, not just for Canterbury but for the whole of New Zealand.
“That is why I see it as a great opportunity. The National government had dropped the ball on health.”
Asked if she would be pleased to see the change of government spell the end of Chua’s tenure as director-general of health, she added: “I wouldn’t be disappointed if he goes. We have seen a real failure in leadership from the ministry that has to be addressed.”
Labour’ Canterbury spokeswoman Megan Woods said the government would endeavour to return the relationship between the ministry and the CDHB to a “functional level”.
Urging quick action, Kane said: “The Labour party campaigned quite vigorously on health issues and mental health in particular.
“I listened to the press debates and Jacinda Ardern said she would start to tackle the toxic relationship between the CDHB and the Ministry of Health and personally I am going to hold her to that.
“I would like them to honour what they said during the election on how they would help facilitate the toxic relationship between the board and the MOH. That is what they campaigned on and said would be one of their priorities and I hope it is.
“In my opinion health in New Zealand is in real trouble – it is ready to implode.”
Kane called for “real dialogue” with the Ministry of Health.
“From a Canterbury perspective they have to get down here in front of the board and discuss the post-earthquake policies and work to that model, not a business-as-usual model.”
Top of the new minister’s in-tray should be to understand the “Canterbury dilemma post-earthquake” – not just the increase of mental health issues but to ensure the region is on funding parity with the rest of New Zealand, Kane said.
“I want . . . an acknowledgment of the huge issues post-earthquake and the type of funding that is actually required.
“What has been lacking is a true partnership on how we can get the very best out of the health dollars for Canterbury and the South Island.”
Fellow board member Sally Buck said she hoped the coalition Government recognised the CDHB’s financial pressures and approved funding for the deficit without reducing services.
“I really hope there will soon be an inquiry into systems for treating mental health,” she said.
CDHB chairman John Wood said he “looked forward” to engaging with the new government.