David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

DHB asked to find $2.63m in savings

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Bay of Plenty District Health Board chief executive Helen Mason.
Bay of Plenty District Health Board chief executive Helen Mason.

The Bay of Plenty District Health Board has been asked to save $2.63 million but says its cost-saving initiatives "are intended to improve services to patients, whilst at the same time ensuring best use of our resources".

Nationally hospitals have been told to make $138million in savings during the 2015-2016 financial year and some have signalled they'll cut costs through staff vacancies which have not been filled.

The detail around the "efficiencies" has come from Official Information Act requests by the Labour Party to health boards.

It shows Waikato District Health Board as facing the highest expected saving with planned "efficiencies" of $43.4 million.

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Bay of Plenty District Health Board chief executive Helen Mason said the initiatives being undertaken to make the savings included better terms and conditions being achieved through participation in national procurement initiatives, and reduction in the average length of hospital stay for elective procedures, arranged and acute activities from service improvement initiatives such as better admission planning and enhanced recovery after surgery.

"As a district health board, we have an ongoing focus on improving our services to ensure that we are making the best possible use of our resources, without reducing patient care," Mrs Mason said.

Documents showed the Waikato DHB planned to save $6.879 million "through holding of vacancies".

Hutt Valley DHB planned to save almost a third of the expected $6.73 million it needs by targeting staff, saving $1.9 million through "holding vacancies in mental health and Regional Public Health".

The $138 million efficiency drive for this financial year is the successor to the Government's efforts to have district health boards save money through Health Benefits Ltd. Labour health spokeswoman Annette King said the move to compel savings from health boards came after years of pressure from Health Benefits Ltd. "They've squeezed this lemon so hard the efficiency gains are going to be so difficult to find."

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists director Ian Powell said patient safety would be put at risk by over-stretched staff being placed under increasing pressure.

Public Service Association national secretary Erin Polaczuk said staff were not taking leave and some were working double shifts to cover roster gaps.

She said she was particularly concerned about mental health vacancies because it meant staff did not have time to provide full early intervention care.

Failure to provide proper treatment had the potential to create catastrophic, fatal outcomes.

Waikato DHB's corporate services director Maureen Chrystall said "efficiencies" on vacancies were not intentional but reflected the amount saved in the time it took to replace staff who left.

"There is often a time gap during the process to recruit the new staff member due to recruitment processing, advertising etc. We recognise that this churn means we are never fully staffed."

Hutt Valley DHB chief executive Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirmed "holding vacancies" was part of the plan to make savings. "These are generally managerial and administrative positions not clinical roles, and patient care and safety is always the main consideration."

Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman said the health budget was at a record level of $15.9 billion. He said it was $400 million more than last year and "there have been no funding 'cuts'".Additional reporting Amy Wiggins

- Bay of Plenty Times

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