Good news for Ashburn Clinic

Lindsay Smith
Lindsay Smith
Despite facing a significant financial shortfall this year, Dunedin's private psychiatric hospital, Ashburn Clinic, has good news about its future.

In a first for the country's oldest, and apart from iwi services, only private psychiatric hospital, the Ministry of Health is appointing a member to its board.

Business manager Lindsay Smith said the ministry had assured Ashburn's financial viability by restoring bed numbers to 25. A threat to drop to 20, along with other factors, sparked a round of redundancies last year in which 9.7 full-time-equivalent staff lost their jobs.

Although it got a ministry "bailout" because of the potential consequences of the cut, Ashburn had now been assured of the extra five beds - worth $500,000 - for the foreseeable future. "It's a recognition by the ministry even more of how important we are.

I think the [district health boards] have been saying to them, `For goodness' sake, you need to support Ashburn because we rely on Ashburn' ... I think [the ministry] did ring round to see whether we were worth looking after or not and got an overwhelming vote that we had to stay."

In addition, private patient numbers had recovered, increasing "quite dramatically" in the past two months, suggesting the economy was improving, Mr Smith said.

Another factor last year had been the loss of ACC-funded places for sexual abuse patients, but this contract was being re-established and the relationship with the corporation had improved.

The provider still faced a significant shortfall for 2010-11, which would be funded from reserves, but was set to make a small surplus in 2011-12.

New staff were being hired, although cuts to landscaping and administration staff would remain.

"We're certainly climbing back up [in staff numbers], but I suspect it will take a while before we get back to where we were."

The hospital was keen to retain some of the efficiencies gained during its tough period last year. It was gradually reopening mothballed facilities.

If Ashburn had a "weakness" it was that, despite being a national hospital, it had a wholly local board. Although of high calibre, with links to the Dunedin School of Medicine, the board needed "someone buried into the national politics of Wellington and the North Island".

Deputy medical director Dr Stephanie du Fresne said, while Ashburn offered a mix of services and programmes, its fixed-term addiction programme, established in 2009, was gaining national importance as it filled a gap left when Queen Mary Hospital in Hanmer Springs was closed.

"It's increasingly gaining credibility and that boosts our private numbers."

Dr du Fresne said the clinic's medical director, Dr Brett Ferguson, was in Auckland this week talking with four DHBs about integrating Ashburn's clinical services with those of the DHBs, to allow more patients to access Ashburn for part of their treatment.

"It's an indication of the value people place on Ashburn that they would like more people to have this treatment option," Dr du Fresne said.


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