Waikato District Health Board spent more than $73,000 recruiting a new chief executive before it halted the process this week, citing "challenges" as the reason.

The majority of the $73,199 fee from Kerridge and Partners was for an "executive search fee" with about $8700 in disbursements – mainly advertising.

The cost comes as Waikato District Health Board chairwoman Sally Webb has refused to elaborate on what the challenges facing the DHB are - or the reason for halting the process after four months and just weeks before an appointment was expected.

When asked by the Herald whether the reason for halting the recruitment would be discussed in public at the monthly board meeting next week, Webb said through a DHB spokeswoman it would be discussed behind closed doors.

Advertisement

"The matter will be in public excluded because it's a discussion about an individual's recruitment and this would always be confidential."

In a statement on Tuesday Webb said the DHB was "working to resolve" the challenges.

"This is an important role and it's crucial that we get it right and find a chief executive who can take this organisation forward over the next five years. Now is not the right time to proceed with the appointment process."

It's unclear when the recruitment will continue or whether the process would have to start from scratch.

Waikato DHB member Dave Macpherson initially excused himself from the chief executive appointment panel. Photo / Alan Gibson.
Waikato DHB member Dave Macpherson initially excused himself from the chief executive appointment panel. Photo / Alan Gibson.

Tuesday's announcement came shortly after the Herald revealed the DHB was seeking a second coroner's inquest into the death of Nicky Stevens, whose suicide in 2015 while a patient at a mental health facility run by Waikato DHB was ruled avoidable by a coroner in December.

Stevens' father, board member Dave Macpherson, excused himself from the chief executive appointment panel because interim chief executive Derek Wright and Webb were part of the decision to seek a new coroner for "further inquiries".

Macpherson's excusal from the panel signalled that Wright was a candidate, however, it's not clear if he was or still is because when asked the DHB spokeswoman said the recruitment and candidates was confidential.

The situation also comes as the DHB, along with the country's other 19 health boards, grapples with a large deficit, addressed in a statement released by Health Minister David Clark today.

"...I am monitoring the performance of all DHBs closely and will consider a range of options to improve performance if necessary, including changes to the membership of boards. I also raised these matters directly with board chairs and chief executives last week."

When asked if it was prudent of the Waikato board to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a four-month recruitment process only to halt it at the last minute due to "challenges", or whether the Minister had sought an explanation, a spokesman directed the questions back to the board.

A spokesman for Health Minister David Clark referred all questions on Waikato DHB's stalled recruitment back to the board. Photo / Mark Mitchell
A spokesman for Health Minister David Clark referred all questions on Waikato DHB's stalled recruitment back to the board. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Herald also asked if it was acceptable practice that the decision to seek a second coronial inquiry into Stevens' death - after Macpherson and his wife Jane Stevens asked for compensation - was not discussed or approved by the full board, and whether the Minister was concerned that the DHB's deficit has continued to grow despite the presence of a Crown Health Monitor on the board since last year.

There was no response to those and other questions, except for referral back to the board.

Wright will now continue as interim chief executive after taking the position in October 2017 and publicly declaring early last year that he did not want the job past January 2019.