An aerial view of Ashburn Clinic, in Halfway Bush, Dunedin.
Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
Ashburn Clinic, in Dunedin, is relying on the Ministry of
Health to save the financially strapped private psychiatric
A crisis meeting with the ministry will be held in Dunedin
Bruce Smaill, whose 35-year tenure as chairman drew to a
close this week, initially said yesterday the clinic might
have to close next month.
He contacted the Otago Daily Times late yesterday to
say he was becoming more confident about the hospital's
future, because of positive indications about the ministry's
Previously, Mr Smaill (76) said: ''We've run out of money.''
About 60 people, a mixture of full-time and part-time staff,
work at the clinic.
Mr Smaill's departure was signalled well before the clinic's
position became dire.
''Our overdraft will be at its maximum limit by the end of
next month. [Closure] is the very real likelihood at the
moment, and that closure would be probably at the end of next
month unless something dramatic happens between now and
New chairman Lindsay Brown, elected at Monday's annual
meeting, said yesterday he was optimistic and, without
prejudging the meeting, he expected to find a long-term
solution to the hospital's periodic funding issues.
The former deputy chairman said the position Ashburn found
itself in was not dissimilar to other difficult times, and it
always pulled through.
Mr Smaill said when contacted yesterday morning that, while
the private psychiatric hospital had struggled financially in
recent years, it had been surviving through cutbacks and
public sector referrals.
Private patient numbers had collapsed in the past couple of
months, while the hoped-for increase in referrals from the
public sector had not happened.
The ministry must decide whether it would support the private
facility as an alternative service for some public sector
health patients, Mr Smaill said.
''It'll be a terrible loss for Dunedin if it had to close.
Not only because of how long it's been around, but because it
does a really good job.''
Private, fee-paying patients had dropped from about nine, to
two, in the past couple of months, while the clinic had about
30 publicly funded patients.
Positioning itself as a fallback for the public sector made
sense given Ashburn's per-bed cost was less than public
''[Closure would] be a tremendous blow for the treatment of
mental health. The treatment people get ... is very
individual ... and it is delivered by such high-quality
The shortage of fee-paying patients reflected a lack of money
for private psychiatric care. Mr Smaill will be farewelled at
a function at Ashburn today.
''I am personally terribly disappointed that this development
has occurred after I'd given three months' notice of my
intention to retire ... because although we've never been
terribly flush for five or six years, we've battled our way
on ... ''
Established in 1882 as Ashburn Hall, the clinic celebrated
its 130th anniversary last year as New Zealand's oldest
private psychiatric facility.
It has carved out a niche role with an emphasis on group
talking therapy, art, music, sport and encouraging patients
in tasks such as cleaning and cooking.
The Ministry of Health said it could not answer the Otago
Daily Times' questions about the situation yesterday, but
would do so today.