Jonathan Coleman’s dubious record as Minister of Health

Former Minister of Health, Jonathan Coleman abruptly resigned from Parliament last week. His departure from Parliament, whilst opening up a by-election in the Northcote electorate that he served, also brings to an end the Parliament and Ministerial chapter of a Health Minister, who many will remember as mediocre, aloof and out of touch with what was really happening in his Ministry and the D.H.B.’s under him.

But it might not be the systemic underfunding of health to the tune of billions of dollars that he is remembered for. Nor might it be the mental health crisis that exploded across New Zealand from a range of causes – loss of jobs and subsequent ability to support family; survivors of earthquakes in Canterbury and Christchurch struggling with every day chores as a result of suffering mental and/or physical harm in these events.

But it might be that Mr Coleman is remembered for the case of Nigel Murray who was Waikato District Health Board chief, and who was found seriously wanting for his misuse of public money. During his tenure Mr Murray racked up $218,000 in expenses including $78,000 in unauthorized expenditure.

More likely though, it will be the case of Middlemore Hospital in Auckland. This is a hospital where the damage caused by under investment in the health system exacted a substantial financial price in the tens of millions of dollars.

Questions must therefore be asked about what Jonathan Coleman knew about the condition of Middlemore Hospital? Mr Coleman denies knowing about the state of the hospital, which had – among other problems – toxic mould which had sufficiently developed that it was capable of rotting walls and contaminate the air, a sewerage leak and an urgent cladding issue that has resulted in $27.5 million, including $11.5 million being announced yesterday, being approved for recladding.

A cynic might suggest that Mr Coleman’s abrupt departure from Parliament indicates knowledge of failings in the Ministry of Health and a failure of his Ministry to react appropriately to them.

In the case of the wood in the walls, testing showed that 90% of walls were decaying to some extent. It further showed that some walls had up to 98% saturation. With such heavy saturation, I am not surprised that the bug outbreaks that have occurred at Middlemore Hospital over the last several years, did, for the moisture content in the physical environment that the bugs developed would have been more than sufficient.

I find it interesting though, that Mr Coleman has resigned from Parliament to take up the top job in a private health company. His departure from Parliament last Thursday follows a host of other National Party M.P.’s including Steven Joyce, Bill English out the door since National’s surprise loss to Labour in the 2017 General Election.


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