23 Mar 2018

Jonathan Coleman hangs up on hospital rot interview

1:22 pm on 23 March 2018

The former health minister has denied knowing about mould problems at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland, despite assertions from the former DHB chair it was common knowledge.

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Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The DHB faces a repair bill of tens of millions of dollars but says patient safety is not compromised so long as the fungal spores stay in the walls.

Health minister David Clark signed off an extra $11.5 million to fix the hospital's Scott Building this week, and said the board had told him nothing about the other problems when he visited last week.

The health minister yesterday sheeted home the blame to his National predecessors, including the former health minister Jonathan Coleman.

Mr Coleman announced yesterday he would be quitting politics to take up a role at Acuity healthcare.

He told Morning Report's Susie Ferguson he had not explicitly been told about the state of the Middlemore buildings.

He said he knew capital injections were needed for the hospital, but was not notified there was any sort of problem along those lines.

"No not explicitly ... I'm aware over time that they need injections of capital to continue to develop the site but I was not notified that there was any sort of problem along these lines."

He also attacked RNZ, saying he was asked to interview on a pretext of talking about his departure from Parliament, not Middlemore hospital.

However, in an email to his staff last night Morning Report said: "We're keen to get Mr Coleman on the show tomorrow morning at 8.15am. Whether he wants to come into the studio in Wellington or Auckland, or phone-in is up to him.

"The interview would be along the lines of:

-Whether Mr Coleman had any knowledge of the state of Middlemore Hospital buildings during his time as Minister of Health - and further discussion on this issue.

- As well as discussing his resignation."

Mr Coleman said he had not known about the problem because he had not been told about it.

Ferguson: "That seems astonishing Minister, that if most people in Wellington at the ministry were aware of this, and the Counties Manukau chair knows about it, and the Health Minister doesn't, isn't that stretching incredulity to breaking point?

Dr Coleman: "No, it isn't actually, if people don't tell me I don't know."

Ferguson: "Why would people keep this from you though?

Dr Coleman: "I don't know, but this is not the topic of the interview so I'm a bit disappointed that once again Radio New Zealand ring up and say they want an interview on my exit from politics, and then make it about something else, but anyway, there you go."

Ferguson: "But isn't this quite interesting coming at this particular time when this is a problem that seems to be pretty significant at Middlemore, and you were the Health Minister for some time beforehand. You're saying you had absolutely no knowledge of this.

Dr Coleman: "No, hadn't been told about it. Anyway, have a great day, I'm walking with my kids and I'm leaving politics, so thanks very much Susie, bye bye."

Mr Coleman then hung up.

Former DHB chair claims mould problem was 'fairly common knowledge'

Middlemore Hospital

Middlemore Hospital Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

However, former Counties Manukau DHB chair, Lee Mathias said the mould problem was common knowledge and people in Wellington also knew about it.

Dr Mathias stepped down from her role at Counties Manukau at the end of 2016 but says the decay in the buildings had been around long before that, and staff and patients were aware of it.

"It's been fairly obvious that there has been rebuilding happening on the site, it's fairly obvious that there are issues with the Scott building cladding.

"Certainly the board and the senior executives were all well aware of what the critical nature of the situation and it became fairly obvious because the first of the remedial actions during my period ... had already started.

"So I don't believe it has been covered up and certainly not intentionally during the period that I was chairman of the board and from what I know from my predecessor too, who was quite open about it.

She said the information had been publicly listed in board papers. She said once confidential board papers were received by the board they were open to the public, however those papers have been denied to RNZ.

She said that had not been the case during her time, and she had worked hard to keep board issues transparent.

"The mental health [building] ... that had to be signed off by the minister, so I think most people in Wellington knew of the situation that Middlemore was in.

She said many of the buildings had been built in the late 90s and early 2000s.

"I don't really think they've got anything to hide."

She said the only reason the problem around cladding on the Scott building had been kept secret for some time was because it had commercial implications for the building provider which had since been resolved.

"I believe most staff knew that there was issues with many of the buildings."

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