Tā Mark Solomon accuses ministry of bias against Canterbury District Health Board

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A former deputy chair of the Canterbury District Health Board is accusing the Ministry of Health and Treasury of an ongoing campaign at the highest levels, to get rid of David Meates.

David Meates.

CDHB departing chief executive David Meates. Photo: RNZ / Karen Brown

The DHB’s chief executive is one of seven executives to resign as it comes under ministry pressure to bring down a $180 million deficit.

RNZ has been given access to a recording of a speech made by Tā Mark Solomon at a private function to farewell David Meates, where he unleashes on officials over their treatment of Meates.

At Meates’ farewell, Tā Mark took aim at the former director-general of health, Chai Chuah.

He said Chuah’s attitude and that of his officials towards board management was made clear at an induction in Wellington for new board members in late 2016.

“It would be fair to say that we walked right into an ambush. The DG at the time, eight of his senior officials and a note-taker and we got an hour’s dump about how terrible the board and management of Canterbury [DHB] was.

“It got down to the point where we all starting to think ‘what the hell have I got into?’. But then a comment was made by the director-general, that the management of Canterbury is so bad that whenever an official from the ministry comes to Christchurch, they come back traumatised, refusing to return.

“I had to leave the meeting early. But I was escorted out of the ministry by the director-general and all the way down [he said] ‘you’ve got to get rid of the management, you’ve got to get rid of David Meates, he’s left a trail of debt and destruction’.”

Tā Mark said he challenged the then-director-general, and told him his behaviour was inappropriate.

“I’d come up for an induction, not to listen to this non-sense.”

He is accusing the ministry and Treasury of underhand tactics, and said it actively undermined management.

“One of the first things I had to do as chair was instruct David he had to take a month’s leave… so David left on a month’s holiday. On the day he came back – to bury his mother – there was a release of an OIA from Treasury.

“In that document there was a recorded conversation amongst the executives of Treasury. One of them makes a statement about their deliberate bias against Canterbury and their hiding of proven facts.”

He said he later responded to the OIA, debunking the claims made.

“One of the things that it stated was the Canterbury [DHB] was totally inefficient. Well hang on here, we just won the prime minister’s efficiency award, that doesn’t sort of gel.”

Hundreds of protesters gather outside of the CHB corporate office.

Last month, protesters gathered outside of the Canterbury DHB’s corporate office as news of the high-level resignations broke amid the DHB’s other woes. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Speaking to those at the function, he said Meates was the best chief executive he had ever worked with and praised him.

“People talk values, David, lots of people. But there’s only a small percentage that act the values. You are a walking expression of the values.

“Where we’ve got to today is something that Canterbury will rue for decades to come, and I will say this bluntly, Ministry of Health, Treasury, you have a lot to answer for.”

Speaking to RNZ last night, Tā Mark said the campaign against Meates had continued under the current director-general of health.

He said the $180m deficit was not of the DHB’s making, and sheeted responsibility for it back to the ministry.

He said at the heart of the problem was funding cuts from six years ago based on out-of-date population data and a failure to account for the ongoing impact of the earthquakes on DHB facilities, with some staff still working out of temporary offices.

Tā Mark also cited costly delays of new buildings such as the Hagley block.

Current Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield was unavailable for an interview but in a statement rejected claims of any breakdown of his relationship with Meates.

“I’ve worked constructively with David Meates for many years, including our time as fellow DHB chief executives and the last two years as Director-General of Health.”

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