Christchurch Distric Health Board blows out to $35 million

By Gabrielle Stuart

CDHB board chairman Murray Cleverley said the health board was under a huge amount of pressure but was doing its best to make sure that did not impact on care. Photo / Christchurch Star
CDHB board chairman Murray Cleverley said the health board was under a huge amount of pressure but was doing its best to make sure that did not impact on care. Photo / Christchurch Star

The cash-strapped Canterbury District Health Board's money problems have got worse.

The CDHB is facing a budget shortfall of more than $35 million in the next financial year, which will be made public today at its monthly meeting.

The health board and the Ministry of Health are set to collide over the deficit. The ministry says its advice shows the health board should be able to manage its budgets without any extra funding.

The health board was given a $44 million funding increase this year, although that was the lowest increase out of the country's five biggest health boards.

CDHB board chairman Murray Cleverley said yesterday the health board was under a huge amount of pressure, particularly around the rebuild, but was doing its best to make sure that did not impact on care.

He said negotiations with the Ministry of Health were underway, and he hoped the Minister would provide extra support.

Health board members also said the budgets are under pressure because of the increase in demand for mental health services and the ageing population.

They say they have already cut budgets in response to their $18m budget deficit last year, and they are now under pressure to cut budgets for essential services like operations.

They have refused to do that, choosing instead to post a deficit.

Board member Aaron Keown said he had written to Health Minister Jonathan Coleman three months ago, asking him to meet with the board to discuss the finances.

But he said that had not happened.

"We can't make more cuts, so at the end of each financial year we will have to go cap in hand to the minister and say can you write this off, but we're only having to do that because we're underfunded," he said.

A spokeswoman for Dr Coleman said he was not available to respond to questions yesterday, and referred them to the Ministry of Health.

Ministry of Health DHB performance acting director John Hazeldine said an independent review done by Pricewaterhouse Coopers last year showed the CDHB was in a "relatively stable financial position."

A commissioner was appointed to run the Southern DHB last year after it forecast a $27 million deficit, but he said there were no plans to do that in Canterbury.

"The Ministry believes the board and management team are capable of returning the DHB to a sustainable financial position over the medium term," he said.

Labour health spokeswoman Annette King told The Star yesterday the numbers the Government was using to decide how much funding the CDHB received did not take into account the true population increase or inflation.

She said the CDHB should have been treated as a special case funding-wise, because of the rebuild and health pressures from the earthquakes.

Board member Jo Kane (above) said the board had been asked to slash budgets across most of its services, but it had all been done behind closed doors.

"I know if our community really knew what was going on there would be protests," she said.

She said the board had already made as many cuts as it could, and it was asking a huge amount of staff already.

"You can only get so much blood out of a stone," she said.

She said "the blame squarely lies on the ministry", because of its funding model.

"We have still got their hands around our neck with them portraying us as not financially sustainable. What's not financially sustainable is the way they are funding us," she said.

- Christchurch Star

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