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New West Coast DHB chair flags more openness

New West Coast DHB chair flags more openness, less secrecy

Openness and transparency will be the norm at West Coast DHB meetings from now on — by order of its new chairman Rick Barker.

Mr Barker was appointed this month in a Government shake-up of DHB leadership around the country and chaired his first meeting of the new board last Friday.

"From now on I want you to consider very carefully whether you can justify putting a board item into the closed agenda," Mr Barker told members and executive DHB staff.

Some things had to be discussed behind closed doors, including commercial negotiations and anything involving patient privacy, he said.

"But those exceptions should be used stringently and carefully, and we should do our utmost to be as open as possible."

The DHB has in the past considered a sizeable chunk of its agenda with the public excluded.

Last month it heard eight items in closed session, including an update on the new Buller Health Centre.

Greymouth Star journalists have noted up to 13 in the closed agenda.

Reporters and other members of the public can be excluded from council and DHB meetings under various provisions of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act.

The most commonly-used reasons cited by the DHB are 'to protect the privacy of natural persons' and 'to carry on negotiations without prejudice or disadvantage.'

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Barker would not say if he thought the DHB had previously been too secretive.

"I'm not making judgements about the past, I'm setting the tone for the future," he said.

"Some organisations are more secretive than necessary, and I was making a statement of intent."

The new chairman also urged board members to be thoughtful and inquiring, and share their thoughts and views freely.

"I will have open dialogue, everything is on the table, with one objective — the best health service we can provide for West Coast people."

The former union organiser, Labour MP and Cabinet Minister said he felt an affinity for the health sector and for the Coast, although his home is now in Hawke's Bay.

"I come from five generations of West Coast miners; I was born in Greymouth hospital; had my appendix out there; my gran who raised me died there. This is not just a job for me, it's personal."

It was important for West Coasters to feel connected to the DHB, not to see it as remote, Mr Barker said.

With that aim, the board would move its February meeting to Westport, and hold a meet-the-community session as part of its visit, he announced.

"Then we'll look at holding some future meetings in Reefton and Hokitika. We are the most important service on the Coast and we need to engage with the people who rely on us," Mr Barker said.

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