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Minister of health in New Zealand Stephen McKernan

Stephen McKernan, Director-General of Health

Stephen McKernan is the Director-General of Health and Chief Executive of the Ministry of Health, a role he has held since 31 July 2006. As Director-General he is the Government's principal advisor on health and disability matters. The Director-General has the key strategic role in leading the development and performance of the New Zealand health system. This includes the negotiation and allocation of $12 billion of health expenditure and monitoring this through 21 District Health Boards.

Stephen has held senior executive roles in the New Zealand Health system for the past 18 years. He has been a Chief Executive since 1998 with his first Chief Executive appointment at Hutt Valley Health and, subsequently, Chief Executive of Hutt Valley DHB in 2000. In 2002 he was appointed Chief Executive of Counties Manukau DHB. Counties Manukau DHB is one of the country's largest DHBs serving a high needs population. It has an annual budget of $950 million and employs some 5500 staff.

Stephen has a Bachelor of Business Studies from Massey University and a Diploma in Public Health from the Royal Society of Health. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Australian College of Health Service Executives.


'The decision to go was mine' - Stephen McKernan

Director-General of Health Stephen McKernan has denied he is quitting his $500,000 job because of political pressure.

His decision to leave, announced yesterday, sparked speculation of a difficult relationship with Health Minister Tony Ryall and that he was unhappy with the establishment of the National Health Board.

But he insisted yesterday: "I have decided not to seek reappointment after my current term expires at the end of July. The decision to go was mine."

The National Health Board, set up under former Treasury secretary Murray Horn, oversees the $9.7 billion a year DHBs spend on primary and hospital services.

The sector is undergoing major changes, announced last year, that will see savings of $700 million over five years and loss of up to 500 jobs.

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said it was unclear why Mr McKernan had stood aside.

"We would be very concerned if the minister has played any role suggesting he should not reapply."

Labour state services spokesperson Grant Robertson said the resignation raised questions around the politicisation of the public service. Dr Horn was Health Minister Tony Ryall's man.

"Was he pushed, or did he jump?" Mr Robertson said.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Ian Powell said Mr McKernan would be a huge loss.

"One of his many strengths is his preparedness to give health ministers the advice they may not want to hear. This is an essential part of the robust relationship between chief executives and cabinet ministers that governments benefit from, especially with restructuring underway," he said.

"We hope that Mr McKernan's surprise decision is not due to political opposition or negativity."

Mr McKernan said he had not been pressured to leave, and it was something he had thought long and hard about.

He had told State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie in January that he would not be seeking to extend his term, which started in 2006.

It was a logical time to go, with changes mostly in place by July.

He said the National Health Board's longterm focus was sensible, as was the move to avoid duplication of services in the sector.

Asked about his relations with Dr Horn, Mr McKernan said: "I get on well, actually. We have lots of discussions, debates, throw around some thoughts, but I have really appreciated the opportunity to share thoughts with Murray in the course of the last 12 months."

His proudest moments in the job were increasing surgery by 25 per cent over the last four years, greater access to primary care and seeing up to 37,000 people with longer life expectancy due to efforts to reduce smoking. "They are the things I would like to be remembered for."

Mr McKernan, who has held senior health system roles for 18 years, said he would make an announcement on his future in due course.

Mr Ryall yesterday thanked Mr McKernan for his contribution and said he hoped he would contribute to the sector in future.


Stephen McKernan minister of health New Zealand
The Executive Leadership Team (ELT) focuses on strategic management, corporate governance, and organisation performance of the Ministry of Health. Specifically, the ELT supports the Director-General by:
  • setting the Ministry's strategic direction and priorities within the context of the government's policy objectives for the health and disability system
  • ensuring the Ministry delivers on those strategies and goals by allocating departmental financial and non-financial resources, monitoring the organisation's performance and accounting for the use of publicly funded resources
  • ensuring the Ministry has the capacity and capability to meet Government's objectives. This includes the people, information, structures, relationships, resources, culture, leadership, and systems to fulfil the Government's directions in the medium and long term
  • supporting the Director-General's financial and operational delegations by providing advice on key matters of health and disability public policy and implementation.
The ELT membership is decided by the Director General of Health, and comprises:
  • Stephen McKernan, Director-General of Health and Chief Executive of the Ministry of Health
  • Andrew Bridgman, Deputy Director General (DDG) Corporate Services and Deputy Chief Executive
  • Deborah Roche, DDG Health and Disability Systems Strategy
  • Teresa Wall, DDG Maori Health
  • David Miller, Acting DDG Information
  • Anthony Hill, DDG Regulation and Governance
  • Margie Apa, DDG Sector Capability and Innovation
  • Geraldine Woods, DDG Health and Disability National Services
  • Janice Wilson, DDG Population Health .
  • David Galler, Principal Medical Advisor
Steve Brazier is the Chief Internal Auditor, leading Risk and Assurance, and reports independently to the Director-General but is not a member of ELT.

The region is the top tier of local government in New Zealand. There are 16 regions of New Zealand. Twelve are governed by an elected regional council, while four are governed by territorial authorities (the second tier of local government) which also perform the functions of a regional council and thus are known as unitary authorities. The Chatham Islands Council is similar to a unitary authority, but is authorised under its own enabling legislation.

map of New Zealand regions

ISO 3166-2 Code
1 Northland Whangarei 13,941 155,800 NZ-NTL
2 Auckland Auckland 5,600 1,436,400 NZ-AUK
3 Waikato Hamilton 25,598 406,600 NZ-WKO
4 Bay of Plenty Whakatane 12,447 272,300 NZ-BOP
5 Gisborne (1) Gisborne 8,351 46,200 NZ-GIS
6 Hawke's Bay Napier 14,164 153,400 NZ-HKB
7 Taranaki Stratford 7,273 108,100 NZ-TKI
8 Manawatu-Wanganui Palmerston North 22,215 230,200 NZ-MWT
9 Wellington Wellington 8,124 478,600 NZ-WGN
10 Tasman (1) Richmond 9,786 46,800 NZ-TAS
11 Nelson (1) Nelson 445 45,000 NZ-NSN
12 Marlborough (1) Blenheim 12,484 45,000 NZ-MBH
13 West Coast Greymouth 23,336 32,600 NZ-WTC
14 Canterbury Christchurch 45,346 559,200 NZ-CAN
15 Otago Dunedin 31,990 205,400 NZ-OTA
16 Southland Invercargill 34,347 93,500 NZ-STL

(1) These regions are unitary authorities .


Last update: 14 June 2010
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