Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has guaranteed Canterbury District Health Board's frontline services will not be cut but insists it needs to tackle its finances.
In emails released yesterday, the board discussed what it said was a Ministry of Health demand for its deficit to be slashed to $17 million, down from its current estimate of almost $54m. The ministry has asked that the following year, it reduce its deficit to zero.
The DHB's former acting chair, Sir Mark Solomon, told RNZ that reducing spending on that scale would mean significant service cuts of unprecedented size.
He said it would equate to the cost of 750 nurses or 256 senior doctors, although Sir Mark emphasised those options were not being considered.
But Dr Coleman told Morning Report today that he could guarantee there was "no way" frontline services would be cut.
He said savings could be made by leasing facilities instead of owning them and a change in the depreciation rate for assets, as well as management changes, such as reduced international travel.
Accountancy firm PWC had taken an objective look at its finances and come up with a "very clear plan", he said.
The deficit was just a fraction of the DHB's $1.5 billion budget, Dr Coleman said, and he was not criticising the DHB's management, but the government "can't have the books run wild".
Current DHB chair John Wood said the emails that had been made public were a snapshot of a particular stage of the discussions between the board and key agencies in Wellington.
"The dialogue is under way and will continue until we get a agreed outcome on the current annual plan.
"There are a number of complex issues, which we, the board, need to get a common understanding with the agencies in Wellington, the Ministries of Health and Treasury in particular, and we need to come to some agreement."
He said he was in no position to say that services would be cut, and the current level of service offered by the DHB was still "astoundingly high", despite all the challenges.
Earlier, the Ministry of Health said the DHB had received an extra $331m over the past eight years. It also said it and the Treasury were willing to help, but that the board must move towards a financially sustainable future.
"This will require Canterbury District Health Board to find savings within its $1.4 billion budget," it said.
"Other DHBs have shown they can do this without cutting frontline services."