‘Sad day’ as centre shelved

An artist’s impression of the new Dunedin Hospital. PHOTO: ODT FILES
An artist’s impression of the new Dunedin Hospital. PHOTO: ODT FILES
The professional development unit for the new Dunedin hospital has lost its home, falling victim to cost pressures.

A decision to shelve the proposed construction of an inter-professional learning centre prompted hospital project adviser Pete Hodgson to call yesterday a sad day for Dunedin and to declare professional development would have to be accommodated somehow.

The proposed centre was a collaboration between the University of Otago, Otago Polytechnic Te Pūkenga and Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand (HNZ).

It was intended to be in the city’s health precinct and to help future-proof the health sector and train future medical staff.

"It’s a very sad day for Dunedin because it was a remarkable opportunity caused by the advent of the new Dunedin hospital," Mr Hodgson said.

"The affordability issue just became front and centre."

Mr Hodgson said the project had to be abandoned for now, but the issue would need to be re-thought in coming years.

"This idea cannot be allowed to die forever," he said.

"It’s certainly dead for the moment."

HNZ had assigned $17 million to the centre and the sum would stay in the hospital budget.

A professional development unit was explicitly excluded from the planned inpatient building, itself the subject of a redesign because of cost pressures.

HNZ chief executive Fepulea’i Margie Apa said the partners in the centre had been forced by escalating costs to consider the feasibility of a new, separate building to house training.

"I want to reassure the community that this decision will not impact or compromise the training for students and our staff."

Retired Dunedin School of Medicine education adviser David Tordoff said the comment was at best disingenuous and certainly inaccurate.

"Multiple approaches to teaching and learning are required to prepare students for getting the best from their clinical experience," Mr Tordoff said.

"So, we now have a situation where Otago and Southland residents are getting a cut-price hospital that will not be fit for purpose when it is completed, let alone fit for the future."

Te Whatu Ora said the three organisations remained committed to inter-disciplinary learning.

"In the short term, teaching and learning will continue to be provided in existing spaces and longer-term plans will be subject to further planning.

"It also does not change the status of Dunedin Hospital as a training hospital."

The learning centre concept remained a shared vision of the parties, "although it cannot now be realised in the short to medium term".

Mr Hodgson wrote last year the centre would be built before the inpatients building.

"The inpatients building simply cannot open without a functional professional development unit for clinicians; it would be unsafe."

He reasserted yesterday professional development was integral to the hospital and "the home for it has disappeared".

"There will need to be something else."

Institutions involved have been under financial strain.

"The university specifically is facing significant pressure on its capital budgets due to escalating construction costs and the current cost of borrowing," university acting vice-chancellor Prof Helen Nicholson said.

The most recent full budget project estimate for the centre was $134 million.

"While it cannot be a priority now, our ambition for the future training of health professionals in Dunedin still includes an inter-professional learning facility," Prof Nicholson said.

Asked if the decision was a blow for the city, Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich initially said it was a blip.

"I am very disappointed to see it dropped from the project," he said.

"I will continue to lobby for it."