Health Minister David Clark apologised to the former chairman of Counties Manukau District Health Board for the position he'd been left in over Middlemore Hospital's building problems, correspondence from the ex-chairman claims.
The Herald has obtained text messages and an email which reveal former acting district health board chairman Rabin Rabindran's increasing concern over public comments from Clark about what he was told about the state of the buildings at Middlemore and how the announcement of Rabindran's departure from the board was handled.
Clark has previously said he was not told of the extent of problems at Middlemore Hospital when he visited on March 13 but Rabindran said he had been told verbally, and in documents handed to him at the time.
National MP Jami-Lee Ross says the correspondence shows Clark ignored Rabindran's pleas to set the record straight.
In an email to DHB senior executives on April 13, Rabindran, who had by then been told his position and that of fellow board member Mark Darrow were under threat, outlined a phone call that day from Clark.
"I said that I have a good reputation but all this in the media is affecting that reputation. He [Clark] kept apologising. I wish I could have recorded what he said.
"Polite and apologetic as he was, I have difficulty with him saying one thing in public and then calling me with the messages he gave me privately. It is going to be interesting what his proposed media statement is going to be."
Two days later Rabindran texted Clark.
"Thank you for your call on Friday [April 13] and apologising for the position I have been put in. I also appreciate your recognition that I have acted respectfully throughout and kept my word of not discussing this with the media before agreeing the wording of the media release. Even though you agree that the state of Middlemore happened well before my time, my reputation has been badly affected."
On April 18, Clark called Rabindran and left a voicemail which Jami-Lee Ross says is evidence Clark tried to "silence" Rabindran.
Clark said he was trying to offer Rabindran a "dignified exit".
On April 24 Rabindran again texted Clark.
"I am disappointed that the media release we worked on last week is now not going out but instead your preference is to wrap it into the announcement of the 3 new chairs. Whilst this may have some merit, just thanking me and Mark for our contribution is not enough as it leaves the impression that we are being replaced for some implied connection to the state of the buildings.
"I need to draw you attention to your comment to the media, that is being continuously quoted, that I apologised for not telling you about the state of the other buildings which is not correct."
Ross, National's MP for Botany, said the new documents show Clark ignored repeated pleas to front up and clarify the issues.
"Dr Clark threw hard-working health professionals under the bus to protect himself, gagged them and then refused to front up when it was clear he had wronged them, in spite of their pleas and his own repeated assurances he would do so."
In a statement, Clark said it was clear Rabindran felt aggrieved over his departure from board.
"It's true he was acting chair for only a matter of months and the building issues at Middlemore developed well before that time. If he felt that he was somehow being blamed for those building issues then that's unfortunate. I have always been very clear where responsibility lay – with the previous government which underfunded health for so long."
Clark said he had never denied being given documents about the building issues but maintained that the full range of building issues was not raised with him face-to-face when he visited.
Rabindran did not respond to requests for comment.