Cuts could lead to street protests: mayor

Latest artists' impression of the new Dunedin Hospital. IMAGE: SUPPLIED
Latest artists' impression of the new Dunedin Hospital. IMAGE: SUPPLIED
Significant cost-cutting proposals at the new Dunedin Hospital could lead to protests in city streets, Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins says.

Bed numbers, operating theatres and even entire wards could be dropped from the plans for the new hospital’s inpatient building as the Ministry of Health reviews its design amid inflationary pressures and rapidly escalating construction costs, the Otago Daily Times reported on Saturday.

Many of the proposed cost-cutting measures had been vigorously opposed by concerned medical staff, the ODT report said.

Yesterday, Mr Hawkins said any proposed change of the scale suggested in the report would be "absolutely intolerable".

He was not surprised aspects of the project were being reviewed.

He pointed to the Dunedin City Council’s Dunedin Hospital SOS campaign several years ago, which had two goals — "save our site" and "save our services".

The first goal was achieved by the commitment from the Government to build the new Dunedin Hospital in the city centre, he said.

The second objective had also seemed on solid ground given the updates the council had received, "which makes the story on Saturday morning so concerning".

"If the proposed changes are anything like what is mentioned in the article, that would be absolutely intolerable," Mr Hawkins said.

In 2010, about 10,000 people marched through the streets in support of neurological services.

More recently, more than 6000 people supported the campaign to rebuild the hospital in the city centre, he said.

"We know that people in Dunedin are prepared to organise in support of the public health system," Mr Hawkins said.

It was the responsibility of the Government to provide a hospital Dunedin and the wider Otago region deserved, he said.

He did not believe the situation had reached crisis point yet, but "there are plenty of options available for us to let Government know that we won’t accept a second-rate hospital".

He had raised his concerns with Dunedin Hospital local advisory group chairman Pete Hodgson and expected they would be passed on to those overseeing the project, he said.

Mr Hodgson declined to comment yesterday.

Dunedin Labour MP and former health minister Dr David Clark said he had seen no documentation to suggest there would be further service cuts to the hospital.

He believed every major project was being looked at for budget constraints during the present "high-inflation climate" but did not believe cuts were necessary.

Dr Clark said he would be watching the project to ensure Dunedin residents got the hospital they needed and deserved.

The statement provided by Dr Clark was in line with recent statements from Health Minister Andrew Little.

Mr Little was unavailable to comment yesterday, but a spokeswoman reiterated his statement reported on Saturday.

"As I said last time, every major building project in the hospital system has been asked to look carefully at their costs, because in the current climate we expect cost escalation.

"In relation to the new Dunedin Hospital I have received no advice about proposed changes to the scope or scale of that project."

Last year, the budget for the new hospital was increased to $1.47 billion, and Mr Little acknowledged it might need to be increased again due to the spiralling cost of building supplies — a factor which was not present when what was originally a $1.2 billion budget was set.

A graphic shown at a recent health-care conference said the budget was now $1.7 billion, a figure Mr Little has not commented on.