During the Hawkes Bay gastro outbreak, I was in the position of being on both the boards of the Hastings District Council and the Hawke's Bay District Health Board.
It was an unenviable position but one which allowed me to see the back end of things that were happening and still continue to happen to this day.
I saw a hospital and health board that kicked into action as soon as practicable. Board members were briefed efficiently and resources were made available to tend to patients. There was room for improvement but the government inquiry report found the outbreak was generally well handled, particularly by the health board.
On the council side I saw senior staff members and elected members visibly upset throughout. None in the organisation has taken this matter lightly. The inquiry report outlines that there were gaps in council's readiness for such an event.
Work is being done by both organisations to recuperate from the effects of the outbreak.
The health board has asked the Government for a one-off grant to reimburse the board for costs associated with the gastro response. The Government has declined to reimburse the funding directly but has chosen to acknowledge the additional costs by relaxing our DHB's surplus (or savings) requirement.
DHBs throughout the country are required by the Government to make savings. These savings are then reinvested back into health services. In the past years the Hawke's Bay District Health Board has used its surplus to fund new infrastructure such as building the new maternity birthing unit, the new mental-health building and a new operating theatre.
We have made policies and investment decisions based upon our forecast financial position and savings plan. Our existing surplus as I understand it will be enough to go ahead with work programmes already planned such as the building of the endoscopy unit but there will be less to spend on capital equipment and other surgical items.
The financial cost of the gastro outbreak is, in effect, cutting into the planned work and reinvestment funds of the DHB.
The DHB has decided to go back to the ministry with these concerns in a bid to reach an amicable resolution and I support this position.
The council also has much work to do. Its chief executive, with governance support, has been tasked to fix the failings identified by the inquiry and to ensure drinking water remains safe. A raft of measures to date has already been put in place, with more to come.
A full review of council water operations is being done to ensure the concerns of the government inquiry are fully addressed and adequate skills and resources are in place.
Stage 2 of the government inquiry is also being worked on and this will focus on the supply of water throughout New Zealand, with emphasis on learning lessons from the Havelock North contamination and making any necessary changes to the laws and arrangements relating to drinking water.
It is clear the lessons learned from this outbreak will affect the New Zealand scene to some extent. It is also clear that the scene of water issues across the board in New Zealand is changing or, perhaps more accurately, needs to change.
From drinking water quality and delivery to irrigation storage schemes, to bottling and swimmable rivers - with a commodity as vital to life as water everyone is affected in some way. Due to that, and the fact water issues are becoming increasingly personal to everyday ordinary Kiwis, in that largely we can no longer swim in rivers and many are buying water back by way of bottles in stores and tankers, I surmise that the public pressure on this issue will only increase with time until significant changes are forced.
I attended the Hawkes Bay "Future of our Water" symposium last week, which was designed to grapple with some of these issues. I found the dynamics between the competing interest groups and priorities quite interesting.
I will report on these in the future.