It's arguably the job with the most responsibility in the entire Waikato - and the Waikato Times can reveal the man tipped as by far the most likely to take it on.
Former physician and Waikato man Nigel Murray is the confirmed frontrunner for the Waikato District Health Board chief executive's job.
Murray is currently the chief executive and president of Canadian health organisation Fraser Health, and was formerly an interim chief executive of the Southland District Health Board and planning and development manager at the Auckland District Health Board.
Waikato DHB chairman Bob Simcock confirmed to the Times yesterday that Murray was the frontrunner out of the 28 applicants who had applied for departing chief executive Craig Climo's job, and the board was due to enter negotiations with him.
"We are in discussions with Nigel Murray MBE . . . We have had extensive conversations with people who have worked with him at Southland and Auckland, and in Canada. The responses were universally positive. The general description about him is that he is an outstanding individual and an outstanding leader."
When asked if the board had found the best person for the job, Simcock replied: "Absolutely. I think he is an outstanding opportunity for our organisation."
Simcock said Murray had lived in the Waikato for some years and still had family living here. "He has always planned to come back here. This opportunity may have advanced those plans by a few years."
Murray himself was unable to respond to calls and emails from the Times. His frontrunner status came to light after sources contacted the paper to say he had recently been seen at Waikato Hospital in the company of at least one member of the eight-person selection panel charged with determining Climo's replacement.
Fraser Health is one of Canada's largest health authorities, and is roughly about three times the size of Waikato DHB. It has a workforce of more than 26,000 people providing health services to about 1.6 million people in the Vancouver area.
The son of a cardiologist, Murray worked as a physician before joining the New Zealand Army. He was involved in healthcare projects in Iraq after the first Gulf War and in Bosnia.
Murray's past is not without controversy. It was while he was at Southland DHB in 2006 and 2007 that Murray took a leading role in the DHB's talks with junior doctors. Those negotiations became a prolonged labour dispute that ended in settlement following a bitter strike. In October that year, just nine months after he got the job at Southland DHB, Murray unexpectedly handed in his notice to take up a position with Fraser Health in Canada. He was subsequently investigated - and later cleared - by Southland DHB over whether he had breached his employment contract by carrying out consultancy work for Fraser Health during his tenure there.
In November, Canadian news website news1130 reported that British Columbia's health minister Terry Lake had ordered a review of Fraser Health to sort out its budgeting difficulties.
"The concern for us is that Fraser has not been able to manage the budget targets, and we want to understand why," Lake told the website. "And that's why we're doing this, because quite frankly the other health authorities have managed to do this."
As well as his involvement with the junior doctors dispute, Murray also
publicly sparred with the union for senior doctors. Ian Powell, the executive director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists was involved in negotiations with Murray and said he had been a "counterproductive" and "polarising" influence on those negotiations.
When contacted by the Times, Powell said he was surprised to hear Murray could be one of the frontrunners to succeed Climo. "I would say his style is conducive to a top-down military organisation. I would not say it was conducive to an organisation that depends on high levels of collaboration or co-ordination."
However, even in light of the Fraser Health and the 2006-07 negotiations, Simcock remained adamant Murray was the right man. "Dr Murray took the lead on the Government side of those negotiations in 2006. Those were particularly challenging negotiations for everybody involved. Rest assured we have worked hard to ensure he would be a good fit for our organisation."
If his appointment is confirmed, one of Murray's first jobs will be to respond to a recently published Ministry of Health report that found numerous shortcomings with Waikato DHB, including too many managers, staff kept in the dark, poor communication between departments, and too-slow treatment of patients.
Hamilton-based Labour list MP Sue Moroney told the Times she hoped the health board had done its research in finding the right person for the role. "I urge the Waikato DHB Board to consider the findings of the recent Ministry of Health report on the DHB in deciding whether Dr Murray is the right choice for this important role.
"In my view, the report points to the need for a CEO who can build trust between staff and management and one who can ensure that staff will be supported to do the best job possible for the health needs of Waikato people.
"The morale of hospital staff is fragile at present and this appointment will be critical in building that morale and therefore quality patient care.
"I will be discussing my views with board chair Bob Simcock."
- Waikato Times