A MEDIATOR is being brought in to address growing tensions within Hunter New England Health (HNEH), including between the executive team and CEO, Michael DiRienzo.
The Australian Community Media (ACM) understands the mediation will be aimed at helping repair a breakdown in the relationship between health district executives and the CEO; and that Mr DiRienzo will take annual leave in the new year during the "restorative" process.
Children, young people and families executive director, Paul Craven has stepped in as acting CEO of the local health district.
HNEH said Dr Craven would act on behalf of Mr DiRienzo, who would take a "well-earned" six weeks of annual leave.
"The board and executive will continue to work together to support staff and the executive team as we move into 2023 and out of the pandemic," Dr Craven said.
"This includes focusing on staff wellbeing and support, across all areas of the (local health district), including clinical, administration and management."
It comes as two senior female members of the health district's executive team announced their resignations last week.
HNEH leadership team consists of 15 executives, including chief executive Mr DiRienzo.
But the executive director of medical services, Professor Trish Davidson AM, and the John Hunter Hospital executive general manager, Leanne Johnson, plan to leave in January.
ACM understands a mediator also will facilitate discussions between Mr DiRienzo and John Hunter Hospital doctors, after 93 per cent of 162 surgeons, anaesthetists, obstetricians and gynaecologists polled in October voted "no confidence" in Hunter New England Health's management.
The poll also found 82 per cent of surgeons had been directed to change patients' clinical urgency categories to meet NSW Health's elective surgery benchmarks, prompting an audit to investigate the claims.
A NSW Health spokesperson said an independent organisation would conduct a review of the allocation of clinical urgency categories within Hunter New England, which was expected to be completed in early 2023.
They would work with the health district with respect to any findings or recommendations arising from it.
Acting CEO, Dr Craven thanked Prof Davidson and Ms Johnson for their "exceptional contribution" to public health services in an announcement to staff this week.
Dr Craven said the two "incredible leaders" leave with the health district's "very best wishes" as Prof Davidson "heads into retirement" and Ms Johnson begins a new role in the disability sector.
"HNELHD always recruits to fill vacancies in clinical and management roles as they occur," Dr Craven said.
"Prof Davidson and Ms Johnson will depart mid-next month."
Dr Craven said Prof Davidson had joined HNEH as a paediatric surgeon in 1991, and she had cared for more than 30,000 children and their families over a 30-year period.
He said Ms Johnson started with the health district in 2014, beginning in mental health services before leading a 5500-strong workforce as John Hunter Hospital's disaster incident controller during the pandemic.
John Hunter Hospital, medical staff council chair, Rob Pickles described Ms Johnson as a leader who was "highly regarded" among clinical staff.
"She will certainly be missed by everyone at John Hunter," Dr Pickles said.
"Everyone felt very positively about her.
"She has been a collaborative general manager over the time she has been here.
"The senior medical staff had a very good working relationship with her.
"Trish has been a leader in paediatric surgery for many years, and deservedly received Queen's Birthday honours earlier this year."
Prof Davidson received an AM - or Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia - in June, 2022, for "significant service" to medical administration and professional associations.
With a career spanning 50 years, she has held a range of executive roles in the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and surgical director positions at John Hunter and John Hunter Children's Hospital.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.