It has been operational since the end of August, but yesterday Mr Ryall unveiled a plaque officially opening the $2.7 million 10-bed observation unit.
Emergency department waiting times indicated the state of the community health sector, as well as other hospital services, Mr Ryall said. This was why the Government closely watched ED wait times through its six-hour treat or transfer target. He said Dunedin Hospital ED had improved in the past three years, from about 70% of the six-hour target to about 88%.
He said the observation unit was part of a wider project strengthening ED's links with other parts of the hospital.
Southern District Health Board chairman Joe Butterfield also spoke, saying that while there had been ''difficult times and tensions'' in ED, the department was looking forward. ED consultant Dr Caroline Collins thanked Mr Ryall for approving funding for the unit.
She paid tribute to the department's staff.
''Their commitment and contribution to getting this unit up and running has been staggering. They really give me hope for the future of this department.''
During his visit, Mr Ryall announced Central Otago now had a diabetes nurse specialist authorised to prescribe medication, the first such nurse in the southern region. The nurse is one of 15 new diabetes nurse specialists able to prescribe announced yesterday by Mr Ryall, as the programme is introduced across New Zealand. It takes the total to 27 nurses.
''The number of people with diabetes in New Zealand has almost doubled in the past 10 years and better management of diabetes is a key health priority,'' he said.
''This provides opportunities for more effective delivery of diabetes services, as well as for further career development for specialist nurses.''