Wow. What an achievement. The communities of Otago and
Southland can collectively pat themselves on the back for
raising $3 million for neurosurgery. What might easily have
seemed an overly ambitious target has been reached.
It emerged in 2009 and 2010 that the South faced losing its
neurosurgery service. With Canterbury interests and
Canterbury surgeons at the forefront, the specialty would be
excised from Dunedin Hospital. Rather than four surgeons
based in Christchurch and two in Dunedin, the plan was for
six and zero. Otago and Southland would be bereft of a
Dunedin Hospital and the Dunedin School of Medicine would be
downgraded, particularly in neurosurgery and trauma
treatment. Neuroscience, a strength at the University of
Otago, would be among the related specialties detrimentally
The Otago Daily Times on July 24, 2010, started the campaign
"It's a no-brainer: Neurosurgery - keep it here", well aware
of what we all had to lose. Emergency travel to Christchurch
imperilled patients' safety, families faced additional
emotional strain and financial costs and deep medical and
community concerns were apparent. The sheer injustice of it
Momentum gathered quickly. By early August that year, this
newspaper joined with the Southland Times to launch a
petition calling on Health Minister Tony Ryall to retain
neurosurgery services in Dunedin. Within two weeks, the
editors of the papers had 40,000 signatures to present to
Everyone among the up to 10,000 who marched from the Octagon
will forever remember the intent and camaraderie in the
Dunedin demonstration of solidarity and protest. The hospital
was surrounded in a symbolic embrace of mobilised citizens.
Emotion ran high, too, among the 1000 people at the town hall
meeting, hearing stories like that from Lianne Latta, of
Owaka, whose 8-month-old son with a brain tumour might never
have survived a trip to Christchurch.
After an anxious period awaiting the verdict of the
Government-appointed expert panel, there was much relief when
its findings were made and then confirmed.
Dunedin's neurosurgery presence would be upgraded to three,
with a strong academic emphasis.
But the job was not completed.
An fresh and prolonged push was required to secure a strong
future for neurosurgery. On January 21 this year, the Otago
Daily Times and Southland Times, with ANZ bank support,
joined forces to launch a campaign to raise $3 million to set
up an endowment fund for a chair in neurosurgery, a key
element in the Dunedin hub of the South Island neurosurgery
The money would underpin the position and make us less
vulnerable to any changes in government policy. Without the
academic element, the South has insufficient population for
The fund received a flying start and by the end of the first
week totalled more than $1 million. As the year has passed,
the massive target came closer. Each last dollar went towards
the $3 million because campaign overheads were met by
business and organisational partnerships. While corporates,
foundations and trusts gave the tally a good push along,
vital as well were the $10 donations, the concerts, the art
shows, the dinners.
In districts like Clinton or Lawrence, the response was
extraordinary. Further events are planned into early next
year, which will give the endowment fund just that much extra
Special mention should be made of fundraiser Irene Mosley.
She and her team - under the Neurological Foundation
chairmanship of Dr Brian McMahon - have provided the energy
and skill without which the campaign might well have
stuttered. Fundraising, never easy, is especially difficult
But, as Mrs Mosley is the first to acknowledge, it is we, the
people and organisations of Otago and Southland who backed
our desire to retain the service with money. We rallied with
spirit and determination at the unfairness of losing an
essential service. And then we rallied again, sustaining
fundraising efforts across 12 months.
At a time where disengagement and apathy are increasingly
commonplace, we demonstrated resolve, purpose and pride.