Health board faces big deficit

The Southern District Health Board will be dipping into its "deficit support" fund for cashflow as it struggles to keep its deficit to $12.5 million by the end of the financial year.

At yesterday's monthly board meeting at Dunedin, new executive director of finance Peter Beirne told board chairman Joe Butterfield that he believed it would be possible to rein in the debt to $12.5m by July, despite earlier projections the deficit could be as high as $13.7m.

As of April 30, the deficit was $12.7m. Based on April trends the projected deficit was $13.3m, the financial report said.

"Planned one-off provisions" were being reviewed to reduce this to $12.5m by July, the report said.

Mr Butterfield said that, given the board's history with exceeding the budget, he "hoped against hope" the deficit could be kept to that amount.

"I wait for May and June results with bated breath."

After yesterday's board meeting, the audit and risk committee met in a public-excluded meeting to consider the board's need for deficit support before the end of the financial year.

The board had already asked the National Health Board for $11.9m in deficit support to be set aside this year and to be drawn on by request but had not touched it so far.

Deputy chief executive Paul Menzies said it was in keeping with the customary plan to draw on the funds before July so the board was in a good cash position.

The budgeted cash position at the end of April was $41m against the actual cash amount of $26.2m.

At Wednesday's hospital committee meeting, members were told that unclaimed leave had been the heaviest contributor to the April deficit but a hospital committee member, Richard Thomson, said staff were working through their holidays to meet patient demand.

Mr Thomson said it was unrealistic to believe all staff could take their full leave time within a 12-month period. "I think what was wrong was that we were [too] optimistic with what we wanted to achieve.

"Keeping [leave liability] to zero is unrealistic. If everyone took their leave, there would be wait increases," he said.

On Wednesday, chief executive Carole Heatly said staff study leave and annual leave had been hard to manage with rising levels of patient demand.

The Southland Times