'Disgraceful': View govt won’t keep hospital promise

The latest architectural image of the new Dunedin hospital, showing the outpatient (left) and...
The latest architectural image of the new Dunedin hospital, showing the outpatient (left) and inpatient buildings from the corner of Cumberland and St Andrew Sts. Local MPs and councillors are calling on the government to build it to the specifications promised. Photo: supplied
It could be 10 years before Dunedin knows if the city’s hospital will be built as planned, Health Minister Shane Reti has revealed.

Dr Reti was quizzed about National’s pre-election promise regarding the new hospital as part of a health select committee meeting yesterday.

His comments about a six-to-10-year timeframe drew a backlash following the meeting, a Dunedin city councillor and a Labour MP labelling it an attempt to dodge the pledge made in the city last July.

Former Local Advisory Group chairman Pete Hodgson also said it was apparent the government would walk away from the promise.

"The idea you can address these changes six years from now is ludicrous," he said.

Last July, National announced a $30 million boost to roll back some of the Labour government’s cuts and said it would build the hospital to the specifications originally intended.

The funding boost was to pay for the reinstatement of 23 inpatient beds, two operating theatres and the country’s first publicly owned PET scanner.

During the committee meeting yesterday, Dr Reti said these changes were "still on the table".

However, they related to the final stage of the inpatient build, he said.

"We have to understand that’s part of fit-out, and the build itself, as you heard the [chief executive] say, could be six to 10 years away, so that is right out at the end."

Shane Reti
Shane Reti
The cost implications of the new hospital came as a surprise to the new government, which had walked into a "fiscal cliff", Dr Reti said.

"This didn’t happen overnight, the position we find ourselves in [with] Dunedin hospital."

The project was still a priority, but the government would need to be much smarter and more efficient in how it was delivered, he said.

Money had been put aside for the project, he said, but he would not give a figure due to commercial sensitivity.

The ODT understands the total budget has now climbed beyond $2 billion, as reported in May this year.

In May, the inpatient building was officially forecast to be completed in 2029 despite delays to the start of above-ground construction due to wrangling with Australasian construction firm CPB Contractors.

Asked about Dr Reti’s comments, Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich said: "Minister Reti has provided consistent assurances about the new Dunedin hospital and I am pleased to hear them".

Other councillors were less impressed.

Cr David Benson-Pope said yesterday it was clear the government had started to "welch" on the deal promised by National.

"I find that disgraceful," he said.

Following comments by Dr Reti in a health select committee meeting yesterday, Cr Benson-Pope said it could be time to re-energise the "They Save — We Pay" hospital campaign.

"It’s such a specific promise; it’s the biggest and most important public works project for the South and it needs to be completed to specification," Cr Benson-Pope said.

Cr Sophie Barker was worried about the fact timeframes had not been specified.

"We know there are great concerns throughout Dunedin that this project may be delayed or not fit for purpose."

Cr Christine Garey was especially concerned about Dr Reti’s suggestion the PET scanner was a "fit-out" at the end of the build.

"Given that ‘warm shelling’ for the PET scanner was originally promised and needs to be done at the build stage, as I understand it, I have no confidence that this ‘warm shelling’ will now happen given the minister’s comments."

Saying something was "on the table" was not a commitment, Cr Steve Walker said.

"The city, led by the mayor, should absolutely be demanding assurances from the government that the hospital be completed to the level promised during the election campaign."

Taieri MP Ingrid Leary said she was disappointed with Dr Reti’s comments.

"The minister made election promises very clearly during the campaign.

"Today’s performance shows, in my view, an intention to break those promises."

Ms Leary said she and Dunedin MP Rachel Brooking would do everything they could to advocate for the new Dunedin hospital, but it was important the city council also showed leadership.

"They were very successful in pushing this issue at a difficult time that included Covid-19 and high supply chain costs.

"We need to see this leadership again from the city."

Dr Reti is expected in Dunedin tomorrow to visit the new hospital site for the first time since the election.