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The cash-strapped Southern District Health Board is defending the cost of its physio pool in Invercargill, when it says it cannot afford to keep Dunedin's physio pool open.
The Otago Therapeutic Pool will close in December unless the Dunedin City Council and the community find a new financial structure to support it.
The board says it can afford neither the pool's $100,000 annual shortfall nor a required upgrade.
Southland Hospital's hydrotherapy pool has restricted access, whereas Dunedin's pool is open to the public.
The 5.4m by 9.2m pool in Invercargill is for hospital patients, and arthritis sufferers through a contract with Arthritis New Zealand.
The pool costs $46,000 a year.
The board receives just over $1500 a year from the arthritis contract towards the cost.
Unlike the Dunedin pool, the Southland pool did not need urgent maintenance and it cost less to run because of its modern design, patient services director Lexie O'Shea said.
''A physio pool can be part of a treatment programme for many patients. Similar treatment outcomes can also be achieved without the use of a physio pool.''
Rhonda Walker, of Invercargill, who co-ordinates the Invercargill arthritis pool users, said they loved their weekly pool sessions.
The water is heated to between 32degC and 36degC.
''It's just incredible. We'd love to use it more often, but we can't,'' she said.
''If they miss a week, they moan.''
The warmth was invaluable for arthritis sufferers, especially in winter, when other forms of exercise were often unavailable.
Benefits for users included using fewer painkillers in the days following a pool session.
Mrs Walker felt sorry for Dunedin physio pool users who might lose their pool and its therapeutic benefits.
Otago Therapeutic Pool Trust secretary-treasurer Neville Martin called for the board to treat the two centres equally.
''The rationale for the SDHB treating its patients in Southland with hydrotherapy should apply to its patients in Otago, otherwise there is an inconsistency within its catchment area.''
The board should spend at least the same amount on a pool in Dunedin, he said.
''The SDHB must still appreciate this benefit, as it is continuing to fund the [Southland] pool's operating costs. I am also aware that around $50,000 was spent a few years ago on fixing tiles [in the Southland pool] which were lifting off the pool,'' he said.
The case for the urgent upgrade of the Dunedin pool was not as pressing as the health board claimed, Mr Martin said.
And besides, he said, the community would fundraise for the upgrade, and its cost should not be used as a reason to close the pool.
''The issue about money for annual operating costs has to kept separate from the issue about upgrades, as to include it in the discussion about keeping the pool open is largely irrelevant.''