28 Nov 2012

Health ministry 'faces challenges'

3:42 pm on 28 November 2012

The head of the Health Ministry has told a parliamentary select committee it is working hard to control costs in tight financial times.

Labour Party MP Maryann Street told the Health Committee on Wednesday that spending by the ministry dropped by 7.6% in the past year to $189.7 million and asked its chief executive Kevin Woods whether its work had suffered as a result.

Dr Woods rejected that view, but acknowledged that the ministry faces tremendous challenges in the tight financial environment.

He said the ministry and district health boards are meeting requirements, including reducing DHB deficits.

Dr Woods said the ministry has reduced its use of contractors and consultants and pulled back on travel costs.

However, it is considering strengthening its policy advice team to enable it to contribute better to work with other government ministries on vulnerable children.

Outside the committee, Maryann Street said she believed the spending drop has delayed 21 ministry projects - nine of them due to staff vacancies.

"There were a number of projects that were delayed that clearly were not able to be managed, to be signed off, to be completed in time. And there is a point at which the head of the Ministry of Health has to say, we cannot do this stuff anymore."