Waikato DHB’s public health team will continue to sign off council water safety plans and ensure they are being implemented under the authority of the Ministry of Health, following suspension of their accreditation by IANZ.
IANZ has issued the DHB six corrective actions, relating to the impact of a chronic shortage of qualified staff and the subsequent significant backlog of work which IANZ cannot be assured the DHB will be able to clear in a timely fashion.
Local authorities are responsible for supplying safe drinking water to their population and DHBs are responsible for assessing that their systems are adequate and following up on any technical breaches.
The suspension of accreditation also does not impact on the DHB’s other work with councils to assess drinking water quality and manage transgressions. There is no increased risk to public health as a result of this action, it just means that the DHB will no longer reference the IANZ brand in its process.
Executive Director of Community & Clinical Support Mark Spittal said: “We have been struggling to recruit staff over a long period of time, as all Drinking Water Assessors need to also be qualified Health Protection Officers, and this limits the number of people available nation wide. Waikato has 90 drinking water supplies in its district – many more than other DHBs, so the availability of staff is much more of an issue for us.
“When IANZ completed their last review in May they continued to accredit us despite the issues we were facing and having agreed our priorities. However the impact of the Havelock North inquiry has led to IANZ significantly raising the bar for accreditation, and rightly so. There has also been a hiatus in training as the national qualification is being revamped, though we have two further staff who are on track to be certified as Drinking Water Assessors early in 2018.”
Mr Spittal said the Ministry of Health had given the DHB the authority to continue its water safety work with councils despite the IANZ accreditation being suspended. “The Ministry has told us they have confidence in our Drinking Water Assessment team and have advised us that we can continue with this work in the interim.
“I anticipate it will take at least 12 months to be able to recruit more staff and clear the backlog of work and regain our accreditation, if that process remains the same following the Havelock North inquiry recommendations. In the interim we will work with the Ministry and councils on contingency plans.”
He added: “Although we have been trying to recruit staff and even training our own to fill the gap, it has been challenging. This is an issue facing all DHBs in New Zealand and I am hopeful that the recommendations from the Havelock North inquiry will lead to changes in the qualifications needed to be a Drinking Water Assessor. This would open the door wider for more people to take this career path and lead to more people being available for us to employ and contract.”