Health board problems raised at meeting

Growing problems with the Southern District Health Board's ''ageing infrastructure'' and the negative effects of population-based funding were highlighted at a public meeting yesterday.

More than 100 people attended the packed meeting, devoted to a ''growing public health crisis'', at the Hunter Centre, Dunedin.

The meeting was organised by Dunedin Labour MPs Clare Curran, who chaired the gathering, and Dr David Clark.

Participants heard that ageing infrastructure and continued cost-cutting were having wide-ranging effects, including water leaking into an operating theatre in wet weather, a recent lengthy IT outage at Dunedin Hospital, planned cuts in mental health beds, and growing work pressures in the Emergency Department.

Labour health spokeswoman Annette King took issue with aspects of the population-based funding formula faced by the SDHB and said University of Otago Prof Robin Gauld had earlier noted shortcomings in the formula.

Mrs King noted the SDHB covered the biggest geographical area of any DHB in the country.

And she believed that pressures arising from the formula were contributing strongly to the health board's financial challenges.

She indicated Labour would review the formula and make any required changes, including to ensure that overall health funding was more transparent and that regional funding was being allocated fairly.

Mrs King said in an interview there was a need for the Government to undertake a major upgrade and rebuild of Dunedin Hospital, which was the last big hospital in the country to be upgraded. She told the meeting there had been ''tremendous staff frustration'' and stress at the SDHB, as it faced continuing pressures through underfunding.

And there was a climate of fear in the health sector, with many people afraid to speak out for fear of losing funding or other repercussions.

''We are a first world country- and we want to ensure that we have a first world health system,'' she said.

Several speakers said the SDHB was trying to do its best, given strong financial pressures.

Max Reid, a former superintendent of the Methodist Mission in Dunedin, said some elderly people in Invercargill were being assessed for home-based support either by telephone by health staff in Dunedin, or were being transported to Dunedin to be assessed, before being returned to their homes.

But there were doubts about how well some older people could hear on the telephone, and it was important for assessors to visit each person's house to see their specific physical circumstances, he said.

Comment also came from members of a health sector panel, comprising Graham Roper, Max Reid, Andy Langford, University of Otago senior lecturer and oncologist Dr Chris Jackson and orthopaedic surgeon Associate Prof David Gwynne-Jones.

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