Council stands united against hospital cuts

Presenting a message to the Government is Dunedin deputy mayor Sophie Barker. PHOTO: CAS SAUNDERS
Presenting a message to the Government is Dunedin deputy mayor Sophie Barker. PHOTO: CAS SAUNDERS
The Government has been warned lives could be put at risk by cuts to the new Dunedin hospital.

The Dunedin City Council was united yesterday in calling for the hospital to be up to the standard that had been promised.

Several councillors pledged to "fight like hell" or march in the streets to ensure a suitable facility is built.

They also lamented lack of information from the Government about the impact of design changes.

City councillors were unanimous in declaring they "will not accept changes that reduce the long-term capacity of the new Dunedin hospital, or that compromise in any way the clinical services available to residents of the city and the wider region".

They approved a campaign fund of up to $130,400.

It was not stated during the council meeting how the fighting fund might be spent.

The council’s moves came after the Government’s pre-Christmas announcement costs had escalated by $200million, resulting in an increase in the project budget of $110million, offset by $90million of design "savings".

Cr Jim O’Malley was worried about what was intended in the pathology and pharmacy areas.

"You are putting lives at risk when you make those cuts," Cr O’Malley said.

The hospital "has to be built the way it was designed".

To do otherwise was to decide not to meet the community’s needs, he said.

Cr Andrew Whiley warned downsizing the hospital would cost lives.

"We’re going to fight this down the streets if we have to."

Several councillors were incredulous outgoing Minister of Health Andrew Little had claimed "there are no cuts".

Mr Little had emphasised there were some increases in capacity, compared with the existing hospital, such as in the number of surgical theatres, set to rise from 16 to 26.

Space would be set aside for some elements that had previously been promised, such as 12 of 410 beds.

Deputy mayor Sophie Barker struggled to imagine how it could be claimed there were no cuts when a five-storey pavilion building had disappeared from plans.

Cr Barker said the existing hospital was past its use-by date and the new hospital should be built to the specifications that were agreed.

Cr Christine Garey said the city deserved a full briefing about the cuts.

Cr David Benson-Pope, whose notice of motion to the meeting prompted the debate, said a redesign added risk.

He referred to a document from Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand Southern that raised concerns about earlier cuts proposed.

Cr Benson-Pope described it as an analysis of "why you shouldn’t make a bad decision".

Some cuts amounted to an attack on staff working conditions, he said.

"Why would you reduce the working conditions of staff when there is a workforce shortage?"

Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich, who seconded the motion, said design decisions could "prejudice the future-proofing of the site".

Cr Carmen Houlahan called for local Labour MPs to "fight for your city".

Asked for comment, Taieri MP Ingrid Leary said she was keen to work with councillors to ensure the hospital "is the best it can be for the region".

Ms Leary said she had listened to the community, councillors, health professionals and unions, and it was clear more information was needed.

She was encouraged by a phone call from incoming minister of health Dr Ayesha Verrall, who had attended medical school at the University of Otago.

National Party leader Christopher Luxon told an audience in Gore last week a National-led government would ensure the new hospital had the support it required.

Mr Luxon acknowledged there had been rising costs, but said the project was "mucked around" by Labour.

"Trust us," he said.