Who might be the next Ashley Bloomfield, and why they won’t face the same scrutiny

The bar has been set very high for whoever Ashley Bloomfield’s successor might be in the role of director-general of health, but it will be a very different role to what it has been.

That difference is thought to be one of the factors in Bloomfield’s decision to end his five-year term early at the end of July. He did little to dampen such thinking in saying that he was happy in the current role, and the new role was not what he signed up for when his term started in 2018.

Nor will Bloomfield’s successor need to be particularly media-savvy or camera-comfortable. The 1pm press conferences are about to become far less frequent, and even when a health boss might be needed to accompany Jacinda Ardern or Chris Hipkins for major announcements, it might not even be the director-general of health.

That’s because, from July 1, the new health structures will become permanent entities. The operational running of the healthcare system will fall to Health NZ, the Health Ministry will have a strategic and monitoring role, and the Māori Health Authority will lead the commissioning work to reduce health inequities for Māori.

Instead of the director-general, the head of Health NZ – who is currently Fepulea’i Margie Apa for the interim entity – may be better placed to answer questions about how the Covid response is running.

Bloomfield will preside over the changes beyond July 1 until he steps down on July 29.

An acting director-general will be appointed until a new one is hired, but there is no timeline for that yet.

The Public Service Commissioner, independent of ministers, is in charge of hiring the ministry’s new boss.

It would ideally be someone suited to the ministry’s new remit, and who will interact well with the new entities. They will need hefty experience in the health sector, and the managerial chops to smoothly run a ministry that is considered a bureaucratic nightmare.

A clinical background, which Bloomfield had, would also be considered an advantage; Bloomfield’s predecessor, Chai Chuah, had an accounting background, and descriptions of his time as director-general are not usually complimentary.

With an annual salary of about half a million dollars, there should be no shortage of contenders. There will also be the heads of 20 DHBs whose jobs are about to be scrapped. Bloomfield also had a host of deputies at the ministry who may be in the running.

Here are some of the names being bandied about, though it remains to be seen if any of them will even apply. They won’t be well known to the public, and it will likely remain that way as press conferences become less frequent:

Robyn Shearer

She is the deputy director-general for DHB performance at the Health Ministry, which would be very relevant for the ministry’s new monitoring role.

She came to the ministry from Te Pou o Te Whakaaro Nui, the national centre of mental health research and workforce development, where she was chief executive officer for a decade. So, managerial chops.

She also has a clinical background, having been a nurse and worked on the front line of mental health services.

Perhaps more significantly, she has been Bloomfield’s choice for running the ministry show in his absence, and is also head of the ministry’s Covid directorate.

John Whaanga

He will be familiar to some, having sometimes fronted press conferences when the ministry wanted to highlight what it’s been doing to help improve Māori health outcomes.

Whaanga is the deputy director-general for Māori Health, and previously helped negotiate a $100 million Treaty of Waitangi settlement for Te Rohe o Te Wairoa. So, experience with potentially challenging partnerships. This would also presumably be an advantage in how the ministry interacted with the Māori Health Authority.

He doesn’t have a clinical background, but heads the Māori Health Directorate, which he was a founding member of, and has also held management positions in public health, in the tertiary education sector, and at the Taratahi Institute of Agriculture.

Dale Bramley

He is one the DHB chief executives – for Waitematā DHB, the largest in the country – whose job will soon be disestablished. His managerial expertise would suit the ministry well, as would his experience in Māori leadership roles.

Bramley also, like Bloomfield, is a public health medical specialist, and he has masters degrees in public health as well as business administration.

He chairs the Health Quality & Safety Commission, was a member of the Māori Expert Advisory Committee that advised the review of the health system preceding these reforms, and is the chief examiner for the College of Public Health Medicine.

He has previously served on the National Health Committee and the National Ethics Committee, and is an adjunct professor at AUT University.

Keriana Brooking

Another DHB chief executive, for Hawke’s Bay, Brooking is the first (and last, given they’re all being scrapped) wahine Māori to head a DHB.

She has been one of Bloomfield’s key deputies – deputy director-general of the Covid-19 Health System Response – and also has extensive primary care experience, having been the inaugural head of the Tairāwhiti primary health organisation, a position she held for 10 years. So, strategy experience.

She is also very focused on exactly what the Government wants the reformed health system to achieve.

“We can’t continue as a country to accept such large variations in things like access and experience, and life expectancy, principally based on ethnicity, but at times based on gender and rurality, and other demographic factors,” she told BayBuzz last year.

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