While so much of the public and political attention in health care of late is focused on the shortage of doctors, there’s another pressing workforce issue – the dearth of good managers in the health bureaucracy.

Good management of health care is clearly critical. Yet here in WA, we have an ominous depletion of our stock of senior managers. There has been a draining away – more a flood than a trickle – of senior managers from the service and problems thereafter in replacing them with people with appropriate skills.

In recent times the list of losses of good managers is long. It includes Shane Kelly who was CEO of South Metro; Kelly was replaced by Linda Smith who took a pay out and left; John Burns, CEO of North Metro; Burns was replaced by John de Campo at North Metro who also left; he in turn was replaced by Russell Weiz who is currently acting; Glynn Palmer CEO of Women’s and Children was moved on after it was amalgamated with North Metro; Prudence Ford who worked on the Reid Review of the WA health service and had also been head of Health System Support; Andrew Chuk in Finance was replaced by Peter King on secondment from Justice; King has since been replaced; Aaron Groves the Director of Mental Health; Peter Wynn Owen took over in an acting capacity; Michael Moodie, CEO South West Area Health Services and latterly Executive Director Technology; Michael Jackson, Head of Population Health; and finally – well at the last count anyway – Chris O’Farrell, CEO Country Services, has gone. Country Services has lost a large number of Regional Directors and senior staff. OK, in all health systems there is some movement of staff but this is haemorrhaging with a capital H! The extent of movement is suggestive of a very unhappy ship. Recently too we have had a cloud of a different sort hanging over the DG for health, Neale Fong, who is being investigated by the Corruption and Crime Commission about his alleged involvement with the disgraced lobbyist and former premier Brian Burke. That does nothing to instil faith in the bureaucracy nor to attract enthusiastic skilled managers into the service.

Yes we need more doctors in the Australian health service but just as much, at least here in the West, we need to plug the gaps being created by the loss of good managers. These are worrying times in WA health service management, especially for the DG, the highest paid public servant in Australia – but for how long?