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Health chief a"scapegoat"

Tuesday, 10th March, 2009

Departing Greater Western Area Health Service boss Claire Blizard has been made a scapegoat for the financially ailing health service, according to the chairman of the health service's advisory council.

Dr Steve Flecknoe-Brown yesterday said that Dr Blizard had been an "extremely capable chief executive" and he was sorry to see her go.

Dr Blizard, who oversaw the amalgamation of the Far West, Macquarie and Mid Western health services in 2005, has announced she will leave the position on March 27. Her resignation follows revelations last year that the GWAHS owed tens of millions of dollars to creditors. In a statement issued yesterday Dr Blizard said that managing such a large and diverse health service had been a "challenging task". But she said in the four years she held the position "significant progress" was made in establishing clinical networks, on workforce issues and on providing safer services. "My decision to resign from the position has been a difficult one," she said. "I extend my sincere thanks to the staff of GWAHS for the high quality of service and dedication they continue to provide. "I also thank the community stakeholders who work tirelessly with the Area to ensure the best possible services are provided in their communities." Dr Blizard said she was looking forward to having an extended holiday and spending time with family. The health service did not say when Dr Blizard's replacement would start, saying only recruitment action to fill the position would commence shortly. Dr Flecknoe-Brown said that the health service would miss Dr Blizard's leadership but that he was not surprised she had decided to quit. "I don't think there was any possibility of talking her out of the decision," said Dr Flecknow-Brown, who was informed of the decision last Tuesday. "The last year's been very hard on her." Dr Blizard had came under intense scrutiny in recent months after it was revealed the GWAHS owed millions in unpaid bills to businesses, some of which had refused to provide goods and services to the health service. A number of local businesses were among those owed money. In late January the State Government provided a $10m advance to the health service which meant it still owed over $10m. Dr Flecknoe-Brown said that the GWAHS wasn't the only health service in NSW facing cash-flow problems, and Dr Blizard had been unfairly targeted by critics and "victimised by the media". "There's only one area health service in NSW that hasn't had trouble paying its bills," he said. "I think she was the scapegoat." However, Dr Flecknoe-Brown said there was room for improvement in the way the GWAHS operated. "There are things we could do better in GWAHS. "We're not very good at picking up revenue. We're not very good at identifying private-chargeable patients. "That's going to have to change." Dr Flecknoe-Brown also said that NSW subsidised the federally-funded aged care sector to the tune of $48 million last year by providing hospital care for people who should be in nursing homes. And while Broken Hill was well served by a high number of senior experienced doctors and nurses, that wasn't the case in all other areas of the health service. The shortage meant there was too much reliance on locum doctors. "Locum doctors cost twice as much as permanent doctors. "That's why this whole business of talking down the health service is so bad. "Nobody wants to come to a place that's talking down the health service." Dr Flecknoe-Brown said the advisory council now had a "fair bit of work" ahead of it to find a replacement and to provide guidance in the meantime. Dr Blizard is the latest senior manager to leave the health service in recent months after the directors of population health and clinical services. The NSW Opposition said changing CEOs would not solve a crisis which has left six of the eight health services with unpaid bills totalling more than $130m in December.

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