The Southern DHB has approved a controversial plan to outsource its hospital kitchens to the international catering company Compass for 15 years.
The board made the decision this afternoon behind closed doors and after two years of debate.
It decided to go ahead despite significant staff, union and community opposition and heavy criticism of what was seen as the secrecy of the process.
DHB chief executive Carole Heatly said it was not possible to ignore the chance to save $1 million a year while securing food safety and nutrition in a commercial contract.
Ms Heatly said the final deal will mean all meals would be prepared by Compass in the hospital kitchens in Dunedin and Invercargill as now, and the company would source 95 percent of its food from local suppliers.
Ms Heatly said the board found it a very difficult decision. She said it was not unanimous but the plan had overwhelming board support.
Opponents the plan had criticised district health board members for debating it in secret.
Despite an opposition campaign by unions and public protests, the heavily-in-deficit Southern DHB has decided not to pass up a commercial contract promising savings of at least $7 million over 15 years.
Up to 20 percent of kitchen staff may now lose their jobs.
One board member, Mary Gamble, who publicly came out against the plan, moved a motion to hold the debate in public, but only one other member, Dr John Chambers, supported it.
The public gallery was not happy.
"The public should demand their resignation if they don't serve the public interest," one member of the public at the meeting said, loudly.
"There's too much in secrecy - it's bloody disgrace to you all," another said.
And, from another: "Enjoy your frozen meals."