South Island Alliance Programme Office General Manager Jan Barber, walking down from the Towers trek, Torres del Paine, Chile, January 2017
I have often been asked about how I planned my career to end up with the general manager role at the South Island Alliance Programme Office. It has certainly not been a planned career but one where I have taken up opportunities as they have come along.
I started work as a pharmacist and after realising early on that retail pharmacy wasn’t for me, I began working as a hospital pharmacist. While working in Perth, Western Australia, I gained a Diploma in Clinical Pharmacy and in Hospital Pharmacy Organisation and Management. When I returned to New Zealand in 1996 I made a conscious decision to move out of pharmacy although it took some time to lose that hat!
In 1997 I started work with the Midland Regional Health Authority and then the Health Funding Authority. These were great roles to expand my understanding of the health system. After supporting the establishment of the Midland DHBs I took on a role managing GP networks in the Bay of Plenty and Taupo area, which later included supporting the establishment of three PHOs in the area.
From there I was appointed to a role as the regional service planner for the Midland DHBs. This role used my experience working across the health sector and my work with teams across many services as a clinical pharmacist. At the end of 2008, I moved to Christchurch and took on a similar role for the South Island DHBs.
Early in 2011 the South Island DHBs chief executives and board chairs agreed to form the South Island Alliance. At the time the decision was made I had just been appointed as the acting general manager for the then, South Island Shared Services Agency Ltd (SISSAL). The alliance approach was to support better care for the population of the South Island through collaboration. 2011 proved to be a challenging year in more ways than one, with the earthquake of 22 February meaning the loss of the SISSAL office, alongside a review of all the regional activities and moving these to clinically led collaborations and a restructure of the staffing model to support the alliance approach.
Was this a good move for the South Island health system? Absolutely! We have gone from working as five individual organisations concerned about the implications of any proposal or decision on their DHB, to one where we are focused on the region as a whole. Is it a perfect system? Maybe not, but I’m not sure there is such a system. The relationships that have developed allow DHBs to come together in service level alliances and workstreams, as well as communicating outside of the formal work. This allows issues to be discussed before they escalate to something more major. The work is focussed on supporting a sustainable health system for the South Island, not one of the DHBs can function alone. Even Canterbury as the largest will struggle to pick up services that ‘fall over’ in a smaller DHB if this is not part of a planned process.
This has been a great job for me! I have loved working with the motivated team at the South Island Alliance Programme Office, the Board, Alliance Leadership Team and SPaIT (or Strategic Planning & Integration Team), alongside all of the team members that have stood up to the challenge of supporting the South Island DHBs under our ‘best for people, best for system’ framework. We have made a difference across so many aspects of health services but we must continually review what we do, so a review of the South Island Alliance is currently underway. This is to ensure we are still focussed on the right things that will make a difference for our population.
For me, after working in health for over 40 years, I have decided to step down from my full-time work. I finish here on 19 May with some sadness but also believing the Alliance is in a good space and that this is the right time for a new person to take it forward. I would like to acknowledge the commitment of the staff and the members of each and every South Island Alliance team. This work is generally over and above their day jobs, but they commit because it is the ‘right’ thing to do for our people.