Cost-cutting leaves DHB staff stressed

ANDREA O'NEIL
Last updated 10:50 01/08/2014

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Cost-cutting at Hutt Valley District Health Board has left staff stressed and confused, and even the chief executive admits workers have lost trust and that the organisation's culture has been damaged.

Patients were bound to be affected by the restructuring, a union representing senior doctors said.

Hospital staff expressed their unhappiness in an anonymous question-and- answer exercise run by senior management in May. The results are to be discussed at a health board meeting today.

Most comments targeted a merger of the Hutt Valley and Wairarapa hospital management teams, which halved staff numbers and saved $1.4 million.

Since then, hospital workers had felt stressed, directionless and were in the dark about the DHB's future, according to their responses.

Hutt Valley and Wairarapa DHBs were two of four DHBs nationwide failing their staff, according to a survey published by the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists union in July.

Senior doctors were floundering in the absence of leadership or information from management in the Hutt and Wairarapa, union executive director Ian Powell said.

"It's like being led by a headless chook. The Government is squeezing funding, no doubt about that, and it's exposed some deficiencies in the leadership of DHBs."

Patient care was inevitably affected when doctors were under pressure, Powell said.

"You have an overworked, overstressed workforce. It's just a total environment of confusion. It's been very, very unhappy."

In his responses to staff worries, DHB chief executive Graham Dyer wrote that the restructure had stretched the hospital's executive team, and had damaged trust in the organisation and its culture.

Change was never easy and the hospital was trying to engage honestly with staff about the restructure one year on, Dyer told The Dominion Post.

"We've been really open - we could have tried to hide it away. We said [to staff], 'Tell us what rumours you are hearing, what's annoying you'," he said.

"We need to get to a financially sustainable position, and that causes some disruption."

Hutt Valley DHB lost $1.8m last financial year, an improvement on the $2.9m deficit the year before.

WORKER WOES

Comments from Hutt Valley District Health Board staff:

"Job security is a big issue for me and many others and we get little to no information. If a better offer came along in a position I could be sure about, I would take it."

"It would help if we knew the direction the DHB is heading. Where are we going? Frontline people are really important in supporting the hospital and we need to know how are you going to engage the people at the coal face. Where is the leadership around this?"

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"There has been lots of talk on the intranet about the DHB as a place to work and deteriorating culture and lack of leadership. We have heard you describe culture as 'the way we do things around here' but culture needs to be led from the top."

"When will our financial position be better and we see an end to the 'belt tightening' that means we have no budget for things like recruitment and training? Are we talking two to five years or 10 to 20 years?"

- The Dominion Post

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