3. Clark under fire at select committee

Updated

David Clark was forced to respond to whether DHB funding increases met his pre-election expectations. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

National MPs have called on Health Minister David Clark to show whether the Government's health spending meets even his own expectations.

At the time of National's 2017 Budget, Clark accused the then-Government of underfunding district health boards, saying DHBs needed $650 million extra just to stay afloat. 

National allocated $439 million additional funding to DHBs in Budget 2017, which Clark (as Opposition health spokesperson) claimed still left a shortfall of over $200 million. 

Now National MPs are accusing Clark of hypocrisy. He has allocated DHBs $549 million extra in the health budget, a funding boost that is well short of the bare minimum amount he claimed they needed while he was in Opposition.

Clark defended himself, saying that the current Government’s increase was still larger than National’s increase.

“We have funded them $110 million more as an increase — it’s a significant increase,” Clark said. 

He also said DHBs were no longer required to make the efficiency savings National had expected them to make, savings they had signalled they were unable to do.

National MPs also pressed Clark over Labour’s election promise to increase health spending by $8 billion. Opposition health spokesman Michael Woodhouse said there was “around” $6 billion missing. 

Clark said the Government remained committed to investing $8 billion more during its first term in government, which will end in 2020. The rest of the funding will be announced in subsequent Budgets, he said.

Clark later clarified to Newsroom that his policy is to announce $8 billion more spending during the Parliamentary term, which will be spent by the end of the forecast period, which will end in 2024.

Woodhouse had another line of attack. Labour’s baseline for the $8 billion calculation was based on PREFU 2017. But the health spending identified in PREFU envisaged a base line of existing funding extending into the future, and does not incorporate extra spending the government might have allocated, Woodhouse said. 

“What are you going to be comparing the previous Government’s record in, if it’s PREFU it’s a lie,” he said.

Questions remain over Counties Manukau ‘pressure’

Clark also answered questions about whether he applied pressure to former Counties Manukau DHB chair Rabin Rabindran over the Middlemore hospital scandal. 

Clark told Rabindran in a leaked email that it was “not helping" that the DHB continued to comment publicly on the Middlemore story as this kept the story alive in the media. 

National’s Jami-Lee Ross read an email from the CEO to the DHB, which said that “unfortunately we’re under some pressure from the minister’s office about what we can and can’t say” regarding the situation at the hospital. 

National MPs also questioned whether Clark was briefed on the state of all the buildings at Middlemore. Clark said that he was shown the state of the dilapidated Scott Building and additional funding was requested from the ministry, which he approved, but that he had not been notified of the state of other buildings. 

But Ross argued this was untrue. 

A text message from Rabindran to Clark records Rabindran telling Clark that DHB Chief Executive Gloria Johnson recalls briefing Clark orally about the buildings. 

“I think he was mistaken, there was no detail given on other buildings,” Clark said in response. 

“I would have expected that any other major building issues on the site that there were going to be  spoken about in the media would have been brought to my attention verbally when I was there,” he said.

Clark argued that, instead, the issues with other buildings were buried in a 25-page briefing document.

Big capital increase

Clark was given the opportunity defend the allocations in the health budget. He told the committee he had secured $750 million in capital spending for improvements to buildings across the health sector, five times more than the past three Budgets combined and the largest capital spend in more than a decade. 

He said that there were around 100 buildings with “challenging issues” across the health sector, with 20 percent of buildings in Auckland needing attention. 

**Clarified at the request of Minister Clark who gave the incorrect time period during the initial press stand-up.