SDHB chief executive resigns: time for a change

Departing Southern District Health Board chief executive Chris Fleming. Photo: File

A TURBULENT six years in the southern health system’s hottest seat is about to come to
an end, after Southern District Health Board (SDHB) chief executive Chris Fleming
announced his resignation this week.

‘‘It was a difficult decision to make… Health is all I’ve known for 30 years,’’ Mr Fleming said.

‘‘But a wise person said to me when they got to the end of their career ‘I wish I had taken
that risk when the opportunity arose’ and I decided I didn’t want to be left saying the same

Mr Fleming (53) leaves the SDHB on June 30 and will return to his home province,  Waikato, to pursue business opportunities with his wife.

‘‘It was time to think about the next step in my career and I had the opportunity to do
something quite different, and I am quite fortunate that we are in a position to be in a
position to tackle something new.’’

He did not elaborate on the nature of the business.

It has not been an easy time as head of the board for Mr Fleming, who was called upon at
various times to provide answers for high cancer waiting lists, and apologise after the
release of scathing reports on the ophthalmology, urology and gastroenterology services.

Although many of the issues he had to confront pre-dated his arrival, being the public
face of the organisation was what was required, Mr Fleming said.

‘‘That’s just an element which goes with it… but for each and every one of those issues the
culture that was started by the commissioners and carried on by [SDHB chairmen] Dave Cull and Pete Hodgson meant that we were determined to discover what the problem was
and then make it better.’’

The SDHB’s financial woes persisted under his watch, and the board is tracking towards
another sizeable deficit this year.

‘‘The financial issue is not as great as some make it out to be,’’ Mr Fleming said.

‘‘What the commissioners and now this board have done is say, ‘fix the problems and if
you fix the problems the financials eventually take care of themselves’, and our deficit now is relatively modest in comparison with the whole health system.’’

Mr Fleming was appointed interim chief executive in September 2016 and named as the
permanent appointee early the following year.

The position was the pinnacle of 30 years working in the health system, which included
stints as chief executive at the South Canterbury and Nelson-Marlborough district health

Mr Hodgson said leading southern was not for the faint-hearted, and Mr Fleming had
taken the organisation through both successful and difficult times.

Mr Fleming this week criticised the lack of information which had been provided to district health boards to prepare for their replacement by Health New Zealand on July 1, when the Government’s health reforms are scheduled to begin with the scrapping of the 20 district health boards.

He said on Tuesday the start of the new system seemed a good milestone to mark his

‘‘I am completely supportive of the direction of travel of the health reforms so this seemed
a natural point to pursue this other opportunity that came up,’’ Mr Fleming said.

‘‘But whenever I leave a job I want to see it in a better shape than it was when I arrived.

‘‘Piling is about to begin on the new Dunedin hospital and I think our clinical leadership is
[in] much better shape now than it was then.

‘‘But there is always more that you can do for the community and it is that which has kept me going, really.’’