Parting Shot: Consultant claps as we pay


I remember our kindergarten teacher clapping three times. It was our signal to sit down, cross our arms and listen.

Thankfully, I no longer need someone to do a seal impersonation for me to understand they want me to listen - they can just talk to me.

In life, listening’s a good skill to have. In work it’s critical.

I feel like the more money you’re earning, the better listener you should be.

Because if you’re earning big bucks you’re probably making important decisions.

You can imagine my surprise, then, to learn our embattled and loss-making district health board has enlisted a consultant to teach listening skills to DHB staff.

He’s been flown over from London. That’s right, London.

Tim Keogh will be flown halfway around the world two more times to talk to the big wigs - with their expertly-trained ears - about results from the DHB’s recent “listening sessions”.

Someone should tell the board there’s this fancy technology called the internet and a very handy thing called Skype which lets you talk to people all over the world using video.

They could use that instead of flying Keogh back. Twice.

Keep in mind, the DHB commissioners were appointed by the health minister last June after said minister sacked the former board because it got sloppy with the purse strings, to the tune of an estimated, worst-case scenario, $42 million deficit.

The board’s currently fronted by Kathy Grant, a Dunedin legal consultant, who’s earning, according to an Otago Daily Times Official Information Act request, $1400 A DAY, with her income capped at $180,000 a year.

She’s helped by Richard Thomson (he was sacked as Otago District Health Board chairman in 2009), Graham Crombie, Dunedin City Holdings’ big cheese, and Christchurch doctor Angela Pitchford, who’s the Health Ministry’s emergency services boss.

They all earn $900 a day.

Board boss Carole Heatly also makes big decisions, as shown by her $70,000 payrise in 2014 - to about $1960 a day.

Am I the only one who has a tiny problem with buckets of money - which we clearly do not have - being spent bringing old mate from London THREE TIMES to teach everyone how to listen, and then talk them through what was said?

Is there not one New Zealand expert who could have done that?

It’s so unbelievable it’s actually laughable.

Apparently there’s more to this process than people telling highly-paid people about their experiences.

Thomson says one of the “key exercises” is patients “sitting down with a staff member and just talking through their experience”.

But - brace yourself – “the staff member is writing it down as it’s being said to them”.

Shut the front door, I thought, as I listened and wrote down what he said.

These staff - doctors, nurses, the chief medical officer and management - already “interface” (that’s DHB-speak for “talk to”) with patients every day?

Listening to ill patients can literally be the difference between life and death.

I don’t think the problem is with people at the coal face.

The money and decision-making power rests with those on mahogany row, including four commissioners who, between them, earn $4100 a day.

To know now they need a remedial listening lesson leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

It’s no wonder there’s no money to buy a CT scanner for Queenstown - a town which attracts two million visitors a year and is one of the country’s fastest-growing areas.

There doesn’t appear to be a single extra cent for better health services.

Irked, I tell you, irked.