Waikato DHB sacked, replaced with commissioner

By Jessica Tyson

Health Minister David Clark has sacked the Waikato District Health Board (DHB) and appointed a commissioner to replace it.

Former Director General of Health, Dr Karen Poutasi, will take up the commissioner’s role from tomorrow.

Clark says installing a commissioner is a necessary step towards addressing the DHB’s deteriorating financial position, lack of strong governance and ongoing performance issues with clinical services.

“Waikato’s financial performance has deteriorated sharply.  In 2017/18 they reported a deficit of $37.2 million, and they are forecasting a $56.1 million deficit for 2018/19 with increasing deficit forecasts in future years."

Clark says in submissions made by eleven members of the board, nine of them offered to resign.

“I think that reflects the seriousness of the challenges they have been dealing with," he says.

“Despite efforts by the Crown Monitor there has been limited progress due to instability at a governance level.  The ongoing performance issues with clinical services are concerning, as is the DHB’s inability to recruit a permanent chief executive."

Dr Karen Poutasi

Clark says Poutasi has the ideal background and skills to tackle the issues at the DHB.

“She has strong governance skills and significant health sector experience, including eleven years as Director-General of Health,” he says.

“I have made my expectations clear to Dr Poutasi on the significant changes that are required to improve the DHB’s financial and clinical performance.  I also expect robust governance arrangements to continue, particularly community and iwi engagement."

Dr Poutasi is the Chief Executive of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, where she has worked for 13 years to deliver NCEA and scholarship assessment, credentialing and quality assurance in the tertiary education sector.
She is a director of Network 4 Learning which is a Crown company providing high quality speed broadband, network support and fibre security to schools.
Dr Poutasi was previously the Director-General of Health for eleven years (1995-2006), where she was responsible for DHB establishment and delivery of the first primary healthcare strategy.

“To give Dr Poutasi time to get on top of the DHB’s issues I plan to introduce legislation to cancel the October 2019 elections for Waikato.  That means the return to an elected board would follow the 2022 elections," says Clark.

“Dr Poutasi will be on unpaid leave from her role as Chief Executive of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority when undertaking commissioner duties, which are expected to require about two or three full-time days a week.  She will also continue at NZQA on a part-time basis.

Clark says deputy commissioner appointments will be made by the commissioner in a timely manner.