New advice has been sought in a Health and Disability Commissioner's investigation after an alleged conflict of interest with an independent advisor.

The move by the Commissioner's office comes after Robert Love raised concerns about aged care expert Rhonda Sherriff's review of the rest home care provided to his mother, Freda Love, in late 2016 and early last year, because of a conflict of interest she had in the case.

Sherriff does not disclose on the report that she is a board member of the New Zealand Aged Care Association, alongside Jan Adams, the managing director of Bupa New Zealand - the company that owns the rest home being investigated.

It's not clear if the HDC knew about the conflict and the office did not respond to follow up questions this afternoon over whether advice would be sought on any of Sherriff's other reviews.

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Freda Love died in February last year after five months at St Kilda Care Home in Cambridge.

In November last year owner Bupa Care Services was ordered to pay $10,000 to Robert Love by the Disputes Tribunal after failing to deliver reasonable standards of care to the 92-year-old.

On one occasion Love found his mother, who couldn't talk and needed a permanent catheter, freezing under a thin blanket in her urine-soaked bed with the window open.

He complained to the rest home and Waikato District Health Board, and later the HDC advocacy service.

In August it was revealed that an unannounced audit of St Kilda Care Home by Waikato DHB found many of the failings had not been rectified.

The HDC commissioned aged care expert Sherriff to review the case earlier this year.

Love wrote to the HDC last week to raise concerns about her independence.

Rhonda Sherriff in 2003. She says she cannot comment on a complaint that she has a conflict of interest in a case she has provided an independent review on. Photo / File
Rhonda Sherriff in 2003. She says she cannot comment on a complaint that she has a conflict of interest in a case she has provided an independent review on. Photo / File

He pointed out that while Sherriff, a registered nurse who has more than 25 years experience in the sector, disclosed she was the clinical nurse advisor to the New Zealand Aged Care Association, she did not disclose her link to Adams.

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"The reason why I am concerned with this is because the NZACA is the professional association specifically established to promote the interests of the residential care industry," Love wrote.

"Bupa New Zealand is by far the largest and arguably most influential client represented by the NZACA.

"I do not wish to labour the point but Bupa is also the company I am complaining about."

He asked why the alleged conflict did not meet the HDC's test for bias, defined by the office as "risk or perceivable risk, that the advisor might unfairly regard with favour or disfavour the case of any party involved in the complaint".

Love said he understood no-one could provide advice to the Commissioner if they had any personal or financial connection with the provider under investigation.


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Bupa was ordered to pay $10,000 over failings of care for Freda Love. Managing director Jan Adams says there is no conflict of interest between her and Rhonda Sherriff. Photo / Supplied
Bupa was ordered to pay $10,000 over failings of care for Freda Love. Managing director Jan Adams says there is no conflict of interest between her and Rhonda Sherriff. Photo / Supplied

Sherriff said she could not comment and directed the Herald to the HDC.

Health and Disability Commissioner Anthony Hill said the HDC placed high value on its independence and impartiality.

"We take any perception of conflict of interest in relation to our independent expert advisors extremely seriously.

"We have reviewed the advice in this case and we have seen no evidence of bias. Nonetheless, given some of the concerns raised we will be seeking new advice in this matter."

Adams said she did not know Sherriff undertook work for the HDC and had never discussed with her, or any other NZACA board members, the Love case.

"I would hope that both Rhonda and I as registered health care professionals understand well about conflicts of interests and professional responsibilities and responsibilities and duties as a director or member of the board."