Cautious optimism ahead of neurosurgery decision

A mood of cautious optimism abides as Otago and Southland people await this morning's announcement from Acting Director-general of Health Andrew Bridgman about the future of neurosurgery.

His decision comes after more than three months of campaigning by thousands of Southern people - and the Otago Daily Times - who want to see neurosurgery retained in Dunedin.

People have in recent weeks been impatient to see the outcome of their action, which included thousands marching in the streets, sending thousands of forms to Health Minister Tony Ryall, more than 55,000 signatures on petitions to Parliament, more than 20,000 joining an online protest site and large turnouts to public meetings.

Mr Bridgman will make today's announcement at a special media briefing in Wellington late this morning, informed by the report of the three-person South Island Neurosurgical Service Expert Panel headed by Anne Kolbe.

Mrs Kolbe, an Auckland paediatric surgeon and Auckland University clinical school head, Adelaide neurosurgeon Glenn McCulloch and consumer advocate David Russell were given the task of advising Mr Bridgman on the future service after the Canterbury and Southern boards could not agree how it should be set up.

Canterbury wanted a service with all six neurosurgeons there, while Southern wanted two neurosurgeons retained in Dunedin.

While some of those associated with the campaign were reluctant to comment yesterday on their hopes for today's announcement, veteran Dunedin North MP and former Labour health minister Pete Hodgson said he was " very confident the result will be good for the South".

While he had no inkling of what was in the top secret report, there was "no way" the Government could adopt the proposal to have a one-site service in Christchurch following the recent campaign.

"It's been game over for months and months".

The campaign, while it should not have been necessary, had been good for the regions and the newly formed Southern District Health Board, as the Otago and Southland parts had "acted as one".

Mr Hodgson said if he was wrong and the announcement went against a service in Dunedin, the two neurosurgeons appointed by Southern District Health Board chief executive Brian Rousseau would "come to town and that will be it", no matter how many board chairman were dismissed - a reference to Mr Ryall's recent decision not to reappoint chairman Errol Millar.

A negative decision for the region would be met by a popular and "very well-informed uprising", Mr Hodgson said.

The co-organiser of the Keep Neurosurgery in Dunedin facebook campaign, Prof Samuel Mann, said he would be "extremely surprised", given the approach of the panel and the types of questions it was asking and information being gathered, if the announcement did not go in favour of a service being retained in Dunedin.

He had been impressed with the panel's ability to listen and to "mirror their understandings back to us".

Prof Mann did not want to be portrayed as "cocky" about the possible announcement, but could not see how the panel could meet the needs that "they have agreed are real needs" by opting for a one-site proposal.

No matter what the outcome, going through the process had set a precedent for understanding about health services, not just in cities like Dunedin and Invercargill but in places such as Te Anau.

He was hopeful the report could be used as a way of looking at health service provision in other areas.

Richard Thomson, former Otago board chairman and fellow facebook campaign organiser, said he had not seen the report but felt the panel approach had been thorough and he could not see it could come up with a Canterbury-only proposal.

Given his respect for the panel and its work, he said he probably had to accept its findings.

"I will feel that I have done the absolute best I can."

He hoped that whatever the panel proposed, people would "just get on with trying to make it work".

Mr Thomson considered it fairly likely there would be some form of external governance involved in whatever was planned.

This was something the panel had asked many questions about.

Dunedin National list MP Michael Woodhouse said people needed to remember the review had been a clinical one and not a political one, despite Labour members' attempts to make it a political argument.

Decisions about the delivery of health services were best made by boards and clinicians if possible and he hoped some progress would be made on that regardless of today's decision.

He was confident the process had given everybody involved a " really good hearing" and optimistic such a sound process would deliver a good outcome for Otago and Southland.


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