Monday, June 14, 2004

STV, Apathy and Should We Really Give a Damn.

I got a few extra details today about the upcoming STV elections for District Health Boards later this year. For those of you who are wondering STV is not some sexually communicable nasty. It stands for single transferable vote and is the system that's going to elect members to district health boards (yes NZ does have a few socialist hangovers in allowing the people to hold the reins of power in our hospitals). A few concerns were raised in last week's issue of Molesworth and Featherston about what sort of complications might arise if voters had to rank, in preference, fields of candidates possibly numbering over 50. If you think that's far fetched bear in mind the Canterbury DHB had around 80 candidates at the last election. Their argument went that people would be so frustrated at the prospect of ranking 50 or more candidates they'd wash their hands of the whole thing and simply not bother.

Well the good news from the powers that be is we don't have to rank every candidate, just the ones we like. Nevertheless I anticipate, as usual, sod all people will bother voting anyway. Usual turnout for these events is around 30 to 40 percent and I see no reason why things will be any different this time round. The Government is going to do its best to persuade us of the joys of democratic participation and is spending $1.2 million dollars on an advertising and education campaign. It's due to start soon so lets hold our collective breath and see what they come up with (anyone remember the little orange man from the last general election?)

While I'm on matters health I'll have a little dig at the Canterbury District Health Board. They finally had some good news today ... they're not on an intensive monitoring regime by the Ministry of Health. 4 other DHBs are and I think there are a few people a little surprised to see that CDHB wasn't among them. I say this because the Christchurch Hospital is haemorrhaging financially and is set to stuff up the DHB's budget to the tune of around nine million dollars. Naturally management has indicated it'll have to make "adjustments" (english translation - cuts) to cope. Clinicians have looked at this sideways pointing out if you reduce services you logically risk compromising patient care. Management denies this. Hmm I wonder whose opinion I should respect on this; the doctor who provides my treatment, or some individual with a business degree?

Compounding the CDHB's problems is its woeful public relations abilities. I understand its relations with local media have been on a downward slide ever since former communications Alannah James was headhunted by Telecom about two years ago. Apparently her replacement, Vivienne Allen, has a less than stellar reputation with local journalists. In fact the word is she now outstrips the Police's communications person as the most ineffective, obstructive, and blatantly incompetent PR person in Christchurch.

Technically when the DHB holds its meetings it's obliged to make the agendas of those meetings publicly available two days before they're held. Strangely there have been two meetings when those papers haven't been available until the day they were held. Coincidentally both meetings involved financial and staffing issues that could have been construed as damaging to the DHB. Official Information Act requests are commonly lost, forgotten, or "not received". The more cynical among the local reporters reckon that just perhaps something fishy is going on. And further regarding stories written lately about the DHB's budget problems I understand Vivienne Allen's rung one organisation threatening to withdraw DHB advertising because of them. Sounds like true professionalism to me.

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