Director-General of Health stepping down

BY VERNON SMALL AND JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 14:03 09/03/2010
Stephen McKernan
CRAIG SIMCOX/The Dominion Post
STEPPING DOWN: Stephen McKernan is not seeking reappointment as Director-General of Health.

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The Director-General of Health is stepping down amidst conjecture about a stand-off over Government-led changes in the sector.

"I have decided not to seek reappointment after my current term expires at the end of July," Stephen McKernan said in a statement today.

Mr McKernan’s decision has sparked speculation he was unhappy with the establishment of the National Health Board, set up under former Treasury secretary Murray Horn to oversee the $9.7b a year DHBs spend on primary and hospital services.

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said it was unclear why Mr McKernan had stood aside.

"We would be very concerned if the Minister has played any role suggesting he should not reapply,” Ms Kelly said.

Mr McKernan was widely respected, Ms Kelly said.

"At a time when major changes are proposed to the Ministry and to health overall, losing such a trusted and competent Director is unsettling.”

Labour’s State Services spokesperson Grant Robertson said the resignation raised questions around the politicisation of the public service.

"Stephen McKernan’s decision not to seek reappointment begs the question. Was he pushed, or did he jump?” Mr Robertson said.

“Mr McKernan’s fate may have been sealed many months ago when Health Minister Tony Ryall decided to appoint Murray Horn to chair the National Health Board.”

Mr McKernan said in his announcement today that the health sector faced “significant challenges”.

“We're seeing marked improvement in key areas such as access to elective services, reducing smoking rates and improving access to primary care, coupled with an overall increase in life expectancy. However, with an ageing population, increasing demand and tight economic circumstances, we must continually challenge where services are provided and how they are planned and funded," he said.

"I've made this announcement now to allow five months for the State Services Commissioner to recruit my replacement. It will also let me focus on managing some of the organisational and system-wide changes that are currently underway."

Mr McKernan has been the Director-General of Health and Chief Executive of the Ministry of Health since July 2006. He is the Government's principal advisor on health and disability matters.

He has held senior executive roles in the New Zealand health system for the past 18 years.

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Mr McKernan said he was discussing a number of options and would make an announcement about his future in due course.

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