Taxpayers paid $17,000 to send a retiring Canterbury health boss to a European conference and farewell him at a function in an exclusive hotel.
Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) chief executive Gordon Davies this week retired from his $450,000 plus a year job.
To farewell Davies, board chairman Alister James signed off on a party for 170 people in an upmarket Crowne Plaza hotel ballroom early this month. It cost the CDHB about $7000.
James also sent Davies to a conference in Paris this year, at a cost of more than $10,000, despite the chief executive signalling his intention to retire about a year before his formal resignation in June.
The board is in the red and must claw back at least $15 million in savings this financial year.
Many board members were unaware of the spend-up until after it had happened, but most supported the gestures.
Davies did not want to comment.
The expenditure has drawn criticism from health funding watchdog, Health Cuts Hurt.
Spokeswoman Heather Carter said public health money should be spent on patients not parties.
"It makes one a little cynical to see money spent on parties, no matter how well respected and hard working Gordon Davies is, when people are waiting too long for operations."
Davies' farewell party sparked outrage from an anonymous member of the public in a letter to The Press.
"They drank the best wine and beer and had food fit for the best business in town celebrating a good result for their owners ... and my mother still waits (for an operation) on the excuse of lack of funding."
James said the party acknowledged Davies' almost 50-year service to the health sector, included being deputy director of health nationwide.
"Having a farewell function for Gordon was the right and proper thing to do for someone who has given so much to health in our region and at a national level ... the number of guests was restricted to 170 to limit the cost."
James said Davies was the most appropriate person to attend the Paris conference on quality improvement as some of the sessions were open only to chief executives.
"We felt that Gordon would be able to maximise the amount of information and learning that we could gather from it."
Davies had shared knowledge from the conference with board members, managers and staff since his return, James said.
Most CDHB members contacted by The Press said they felt the spending was appropriate.
"I think that it would be crass to have somebody of his stature retire from a lifetime career in health and not acknowledge this," said deputy chairwoman Olive Webb, who attended the function a gathering she described as "not lavish".
Webb said Davies had attended few conferences at the CDHB's expense in his long tenure, but those that he did had led to great benefits for Canterbury's medical community.
Board member Andrew Dickerson, who chose not to attend Davies' farewell, said the board had an obligation to manage hospitality and entertainment expenditure in a prudent manner.
The board adopted a sensitive expenditure policy relating to hospitality and entertainment costs in August, Dickerson said.
- The Press