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SA Health chief declares new "open and accountable culture"

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The chief executive of SA Health has declared “a line in the sand” for the state’s largest government department as it confronts Independent Commission Against Corruption concerns, telling staff it will adopt a “truly open and accountable culture – and anything less is unacceptable”.

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Dr Chris McGowan made the declaration in an email bulletin to all SA Health employees last Saturday, as the Government chose the Australia Day long weekend to release its response to Commissioner Bruce Lander’s blistering December 2019 report into the department.

“This is a ‘line in the sand’ moment,” McGowan writes.

“We will be adopting a truly open and accountable culture.

“Anything less is unacceptable.”

Lander’s excoriating report, Troubling Ambiguity: Governance in SA Health, detailed a raft of concerns, including a professional culture that enables corruption,in which misconduct and unmitigated conflicts of interest are common and private interests are placed ahead of public interest.

The Government’s response to the report is an inter-agency taskforce that will oversee an internal SA Health project to push “industrial reform; cultural reform; and practice reform” within the department.

Announced as an “arm’s length” move from SA Health, the taskforce will in fact have McGowan and Central Adelaide Local Health Network chief executive Lesley Dwyer on its five-person senior leadership team.

Troubling Ambiguity identified:

Lander said in his report that poor conduct and practices are “common and accepted” within the department, which failed to monitor its highest-paid staff – specialist doctors.

SA Health was “an environment where personal interests are preferred at the expense of the public interest”, with a records management system in which “important documentation either does not exist or cannot be found”, a culture characterised by bullying and intimidation and where staff experience “more instances of corruption and feel more vulnerable to corruption than the rest of public administration”.

“I have closed a number of corruption investigations into conduct of SA Health employees because the system is so poorly administered that is hampered by efforts to obtain appropriate evidence,” Lander wrote.

“I have formed the view that poor conduct and practices are common and accepted within SA Health.”

In his weekend bulletin to staff, McGowan says that he, Health Minister Stephen Wade and the executives of each of the state’s Local Health Networks (which directly administer public health facilities) are “all committed to introducing positive and sustained reform to our health system”.

“A lot of work has already gone into tackling the issues raised in the Commissioner’s report,” he  wrote.

“However, there is much more left to do, and the Government’s response outlines how we will continue to tackle these issues.

“As the ICAC Commissioner pointed out, many of these issues are long-standing, and will require a long-term focus and commitment to resolve.

“However, by working together, I’m confident we can make a real difference to the way our health system operates and deliver tangible benefits for our patients and our communities.”

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