Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Waikato DHB chief executive spent $108,000 of taxpayer money on work expenses

Waikato District Health Board chief executive Nigel Murray's expenses have come in at $108,000 over two years. Photo / Christine Cornege.
Waikato District Health Board chief executive Nigel Murray's expenses have come in at $108,000 over two years. Photo / Christine Cornege.

Taxpayers have forked out more than $108,000 in expenses including $36,710 in relocation costs for Waikato District Health Board chief executive Dr Nigel Murray since he took up the job in July 2014.

However, board chairman Bob Simcock says he is not concerned by the comparatively high expenses because of Murray's role as lead chief executive on national health groups.

The district health board (DHB) has disclosed Murray's expenses, two-and-a-half years after he began the job despite expenses being required by the State Services Commission annually.

A breakdown of the $108,152 expenses for the two years to June 2016 show Murray made $36,429 worth of international travel including four trips to the United States for "information services strategy development".

At least three of the trips, to California in October and November 2015, and January 2016, were listed as being for virtual health, ahead of the DHB's new SmartHealth system, which was launched last September.

The system is powered by HealthTap, an interactive health company with headquarters in Palo Alto, California.

One of the trips to San Francisco and Palo Alto, which cost $6290, was to assist with a business case study class on virtual health at Stanford University.

The board also paid $23,730 to move Murray's personal effects from Vancouver to Hamilton, as well as $1270 in airfares in mid-2014.

It then paid $11,710 in "early arrival accommodation costs" because Murray finished his role at Fraser Health Authority in British Columbia earlier than expected, resigning before the release of a review there showed the authority to be one of the worst-performing in Canada.

Murray's domestic travel cost taxpayers $15,981 in the 2014/15 year and $19,032 in the 2015/16 year, a total of $35,013, making his total travel for the two years $71,442.

By comparison Auckland District Health Board chief executive Ailsa Claire spent $6679 on international travel and $14,072 on domestic travel for the same two-year time period.

At Waitemata DHB, chief executive Dr Dale Bramley spent $36,745 in total on international and domestic travel for the two years and at Counties Manukau Geraint Martin spent $39,397 for the same travel and time period.

Of the district health boards surveyed by the Herald only Lakes DHB chief executive Ron Dunham spent more ($92,774) for the same period.

Canterbury DHB chief executive David Meates spent $58,518 on travel in that time and Bay of Plenty DHB chief executives Phil Cammish and later Helen Mason spent a combined $48,953 for the two years.

Northland DHB chief executive Dr Nick Chamberlain spent $48,182 on travel and $19,058 on "other", which included various medical subscriptions and a "learning set".

At Capital and Coast DHB chief executive Debbie Chin spent $12,350 on travel.

Labour MP Sue Moroney called Murray's expenses hefty.

"It's alarming that it's comparatively high and I'd want to know what value the taxpayer is getting out of all that money being spent on travel both international and domestic."

But board chairman Simcock was not concerned about the level of expenses, saying Murray was doing legitimate DHB business and pointed out the first-year expenses were skewed because of moving costs.

"He's involved in a number of national roles so he's been doing work on procurement nationally for DHBs. He attends the board meetings of Pharmac and travelling out of Hamilton, it seems to be a little bit more expensive than other places."

Simcock said when Murray was recruited it was with the view of building relationships between the DHB and community leaders in the health sector, local government and government agencies.

"That's his job: to help deliver strategies that are going to improve the health of the whole community, not just in the hospital system."

However, he said the board would be making sure the expenses "don't grow too much" and that Murray's first priority remained the Waikato DHB region.

Murray did not want to comment but Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman said chief executives "understand the responsibility of stewardship that comes with public money".

Meanwhile Simcock answered questions from Moroney at the Health Select Committee in Wellington on Wednesday about Murray's salary, which was at least $100,000 more last financial year than in 2014/15.

Simcock said it wasn't an increase but attributed the difference to:
• A 2 per cent pay increase of $9000;
• Withheld salary from the previous year earned by good performance of $46,277;
• Cashed out annual leave of three weeks totalling $29,384;
• The difference of starting three weeks into the financial year meaning Murray did not work a full financial year in 2014/15 - about $40,000.

- NZ Herald

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