Speculation is growing that the troubled Waikato District Health Board could be axed and replaced by commissioners.

National MP for Hamilton East David Bennett said there had been talk in Wellington of commissioners being appointed to Waikato DHB.

"There are rumours around possible ministerial intervention which are yet to be confirmed," Bennett said.

Similar sentiments have been expressed in the health industry in the Waikato.


Asked yesterday if he could rule out whether consideration was being given to appointing commissioners to take over the role of the board, a spokesman for the Health Minister David Clark said there were "no announcements to be made about this".

Bennett said with local body and DHB elections in October the Minister might decide to wait.

The MP believed the DHB's position was the result of difficulties that had not been fully resolved following Dr Nigel Murray's time as CEO.

Sacking an entire board is relatively rare and signals the governance level of a DHB is in dire straits.

In 2015 then Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman sacked the 11-member board at Southern District Health Board over serious financial concerns including a $42 million deficit.

Waikato DHB, which has a forecast deficit of $56 million, is still recovering from the fallout of former chief executive Murray's spending of taxpayer money during his three years in the top job.

Murray resigned in October 2017 after a DHB investigation and a State Services Commission inquiry found he spent $218,000 on travel and accommodation, half of which was either unauthorised or unjustified.

Then board chairman Bob Simcock resigned the following month after the Herald revealed the Serious Fraud Office was investigating.


At the same time the DHB spent $25 million on a virtual health solution that was a flop and eventually scrapped, a situation that is the subject of an investigation by the Auditor-General 's office.

Following the SSC investigation findings in March last year former Labour MP Sue Moroney called for the appointed board members to resign, saying they had failed to protect the public interest when they allowed Murray to resign instead of facing action.

However Clark said he was comfortable with the board and eventually appointed acting chairwoman Sally Webb to the permanent position of chair.

In August last year Clark also appointed a Crown Monitor to "provide the board with the extra support it needs in its work to improve governance and leadership at the DHB".

Ken Whelan is a principal at consultancy Francis Health and was part of a team engaged by the DHB at the start of 2018 that undertook $1.8 million of work.

Whelan is paid $35,000 per year as a Crown Monitor on both Waikato and Counties Manukau district health boards.

In February Waikato DHB halted a four-month-long $73,000 recruitment process for a permanent chief executive officer citing "challenges" that it would not elaborate on.

The move came after it was criticised for complaining to the Solicitor General over the inquest into the death of Nicky Stevens while in mental health care at the DHB.

Stevens is the son of board member Dave Macpherson, who together with partner Jane Stevens wants an apology and compensation from the DHB over their son's suicide after he left the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre unescorted in 2015.

Meanwhile interim CEO Derek Wright resigned after withdrawing from the recruitment process. His last day is April 26.

An industry insider said relationships between the DHB and other health providers in the region were strained to breaking point.

The DHB had just spent more than $800,000 on a strategic health plan for the region, which has a population of 400,000-plus, that has been criticised as having "aspirational statements" that did little to give confidence of any meaningful change.

Strategy and funding director Tanya Maloney admitted the plan was aspirational.

"We would expect it to be, but that doesn't mean it's not achievable. It is a 10-year plan and the health system does need considerable change."

A spokeswoman said Wright and Webb would not comment on whether commissioners were being readied to enter the DHB.

Sacked health boards

June 2015: Southern District Health Board members sacked by then Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman over longstanding financial woes.

February 2008: Hawke's Bay District Health Board members sacked by then Health Minister David Cunliffe for not managing a serious conflict of interest.

July 2000: Tairawhiti District Health Board members sacked by then Health Minister Annette King after 465 patients received the wrong results for prostate cancer.