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Health Ministry's 'strained, difficult' relationship with DHB slows $300M Chch hospital

Wednesday 9th March 2016

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The $300 million development of a new acute services building at Christchurch Hospital has been bogged down by unclear governance and a strained relationship between the Ministry of Health and the local district health board, the Auditor-General says.

Not enough thought had been given as to how the Canterbury District Health Board would be involved in the project, nor how the governance structure would operate in practice in a project, senior performance auditor at the Office of the Auditor-General Kate Williams told parliament's finance and expenditure committee. The Auditor-General also touched on two other projects - the bus interchange and the central library. 

The central hospital project is being run under a new model, with the ministry responsible for managing the project, and a new group, the Hospital Redevelopment Partnership Group, providing governance. Typically, a district health board is responsible for its own major projects, with the ministry monitoring. 

Mike Scott, assistant auditor-general of the performance audit group, said the roles and responsibilities within the project had been "a bit unclear and confused" from the beginning, with uncertainty about who could make decisions and who was accountable. 

Williams said a "strained" relationship between the ministry the DHB added to the issues around the hospital rebuild.

"It's no secret that there's a difficult relationship between the ministry and the DHB, and while the project has been progressing, there's been quite a lot of disagreements and time has needed to be diverted to resolving those disagreements rather than the project itself," she said.

"It's also been quite an unpleasant environment for some of those people to work with, and they're already working in a difficult environment in Christchurch."

The new acute services building and redevelopment at Burwood Hospital will cost $650 million in total, and are due to be completed in March 2018. 

Green MP Eugenie Sage said the new governance arrangement looked like it was a recipe for failure, pointing to the bus interchange project, which was delivered on time and within budget, and was led by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority whose clear communication was picked up on by the Auditor-General's report. 

Williams said that while there had been confusion and difficulty, there was strong leadership from the partnership group and the project had progressed.

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