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Board eases fears

Saturday, 18th July, 2015

Far West Local Health District chairman Tom Hynes. Far West Local Health District chairman Tom Hynes.

By Andrew Robertson

The board of the local health district has moved to allay public concerns about the performance of the health service in the wake of scathing criticism of its senior management.

Far West Local Health District board chairman Tom Hynes said yesterday he wanted to reassure people the health service was “still functioning well” and that its skilled staff were dedicated to patients.

“The staff are dedicated; they’re very skilled staff and very caring staff, and they have great concerns for the safety and wellbeing of themselves and their patients,” Mr Hynes told reporters.

His comments follow claims by long-serving local specialist Dr Steve Flecknoe-Brown that “secretive” management had lowered morale among workers and even prompted the resignation of senior staff.

Dr Flecknoe-Brown, who also said there was a total lack of respect and confidence in senior management, has resigned from the health service and the FWLHD board has initiated an inquiry into the claims.

A nurse who has turned whistleblower for a Senate inquiry into health has also claimed Broken Hill has one of “the most toxic hospitals in Australia”.

Mr Hynes shed no more light on the doctor’s claims or the inquiry’s terms of reference yesterday, saying only that the board had accepted that they were governance issues and that it had taken them on “very carefully”.

“It has then gone to the (health) ministry and (the board) has asked the ministry to commission on our behalf an independent assessor to review the issues that were raised.

“That process is now in train. We respect the confidentiality of that process but we also respect the confidentiality, privacy and integrity of the people involved in that process.

“So we’re not prepared to make any comment until the process is completely concluded and I don’t know when that conclusion’s going to be.

“I have empathy for all the parties involved in this process; it’s a very distressing and stressful time and they have to go through it and we have to respect their confidentiality.”

He would not be drawn on whether staff morale was low or about other recent resignations, saying the board had no involvement in operational matters apart from the recruitment of the chief executive.

He also refused to reveal if the board had been approached by any other current or former employees with concerns recently.

“All I’ll say is any matter that comes to the board from any person is viewed by the board as to whether it’s governance or operation. If its operation, it’s given to (management) to put through the processes that are available.”

Dr Flecknoe-Brown yesterday repeated that it was his intention to withdraw his resignation if the inquiry that is now underway found a “solution” to his concerns.

Mr Hynes, meanwhile, has defended a directive from chief executive Stuart Riley to health service staff telling them not to attend a federal Senate inquiry hearing that was held in Broken Hill last month.

NSW Senator Deborah O’Neill, who is chairing the inquiry into health funding, slammed the gag-order, and called on the State’s Health Minister, Jillian Skinner, to reveal whether she had had any involvement in the directive. 

But Mr Hynes said the health service simply wanted to protect staff against having to answer questions that were outside their field of knowledge - or politically motivated.

“It was an issue (of) protecting the staff so that they weren’t exposed to that sort of issue, and having to make comments that they may not be in the field and may not feel comfortable about making,” he said.

“It could be viewed that we were being secretive about it, but it was not that, it was about the protection of the staff and not putting them in a position where they had to comment on issues that appeared to be a pure political issue.”

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