Cunliffe rips into DHB's 'nasty little nest' (+video)

Health Minister David Cunliffe ripped into the former members of Hawkes Bay's District Health Board in Parliament yesterday as he justified his decision to sack them and defended the inquiry report released on Monday.

"It's [the report] lifted the lid on a nasty little nest of self-perpetuating provincial elites who have been propping each other up and, either through ignorance or malpractice, slipping each other cosy contracts without proper governance protection - and doing it time and time again," he said during a snap debate.

"And the elites of the Bay don't like having the same standards applied to them as any other Crown entity ... close on $400 million a year of taxpayers' resources going to the healthcare of Hawkes Bay and they don't expect the same standard of governance that anyone else has to stand by."

Mr Cunliffe went over the reasons for sacking the board, focusing on its deteriorating financial situation.

"This is a board that tried to tell the people of Hawkes Bay, according to that august rag the Hawke's Bay Today, that when they sold Napier Hospital ... they were going to have to use the proceeds to pay their operating deficit," he said.

"Even though the former minister had told them not to, and even though they knew it's against ministerial guidelines."

Mr Cunliffe said the former board members were now trying to blame everyone except themselves.

"Like folks from Jurassic Park , they're saying nothing's wrong. It's okay to spend capital on operating deficits, it's okay to cut some deals with your mates without good governance, it's okay not to declare conflicts of interest, it's okay to have a cushy deal for pharmacies you own and then charge a surcharge to the people of Hawkes Bay."

Mr Cunliffe said the level of dysfunction and distrust had been intolerable.

"It's over. Well, it's kind of over ... I think there is probably some more to come out here, perhaps more evidence that what we have here is a self-perpetuating nest of cosy interests that just aren't used to the disinfectant of sunshine being shone on them."

The snap debate was called by National's health spokesman Tony Ryall, who said the report was a whitewash and the Government was trying to use it as a diversion from "the real issue".

That issue, he said, was former Health Minister Annette King's appointment to the board of Peter Hausmann, who became embroiled in a controversy when a company he had an interest in tendered for a contract with the DHB.

"Why did Annette King appoint Peter Hausmann to the board when she knew that he was intending to bid for multi-million contracts?" he said.

"Why is the report silent on that issue ... nothing in it about why Annette King appointed him. Why on earth would a minister do that - insert a member into a difficult position. She's never answered that question."

Mr Ryall also wanted to know why the report did not deal with management involvement in the Hausmann controversy, and why some emails were deleted and only discovered by forensic experts in London.

"This report is a whitewash, it's typical Labour Party 101 - shoot as many people as you can to divert attention from the real issues."

Mr Cunliffe accused Mr Ryall of using sleazy tactics in an attempt to undermine Ms King.

"If this is a whitewash it's a 200-page whitewash," he said.

"National is playing partisan politics. They don't really care about the people of Hawkes Bay and their health services, they want to get at Annette King, they want to take her down in parliamentary cross-fire."

- NZPA

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