Hospital shrinks but 'no cuts', says Little

Andrew Little. Photo: The New Zealand Herald
Andrew Little. Photo: The New Zealand Herald
Health Minister Andrew Little has countered criticism about trimmed plans for the new Dunedin hospital by insisting "there are no cuts".

The project to build the hospital has been under budgetary pressure and the Government announced late last year increased costs would be offset by design "savings" of $90 million.

Asked about a letter from Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich expressing concern about the Government’s revised plans, Mr Little was untroubled.

"There are no cuts to the new Dunedin Hospital," the minister said.

"The new hospital will expand capacity compared to the current hospital, in some respects significantly — for example, 26 surgical theatres rather than the current 16."

The Government’s revised plan for the opening of the inpatients building has fewer beds, operating theatres and less non-clinical space than was agreed in a final detailed business case and Mr Radich warned Mr Little the mood in Dunedin was for "large public protest, which is not a good look in an election year".

Mr Little said he was considering the mayor’s points before offering a formal response.

Mr Radich, who initially welcomed the Government’s plan but then changed tack, said he looked forward to Mr Little’s reply.

"The residents of Otago and Southland naturally expect that there will be significant improvements in capacity with their new Dunedin Hospital compared to the current facility," Mr Radich said.

"What they are very alarmed about are cuts to the already finalised detailed business case."

Mr Little had said original objectives for additional clinical capacity remained intact.

"But they are delivered in the constrained circumstances we face today," he said in a Facebook post before Christmas.

"They still require the Government to provide that additional funding of $110 million."

In some cases, space will be allowed for, but it will not be used immediately to treat patients.

Mr Radich said achieving minimal savings that would take time to implement during an inflationary environment seemed "more like an exercise in futility than realistic cost reduction".

The Cabinet approved a detailed business case in 2021 proposing 421 inpatient beds, but it was revealed before Christmas last year an error was made and the number should have been 410.

"Of the 410 beds, 398 will be available at the end of construction and the remaining 12 will be available later when a shelled section (which is an area where
the walls are built but the area isn’t fitted out) is completed," Mr Little said in his Facebook post.

The capacity of the planned new hospital is to be discussed by the Dunedin City Council at the end of this month, after a notice of motion brought by Cr David Benson-Pope.

Cr Benson-Pope, a former cabinet minister, said he was sure the discussion would leave Mr Little "in no doubt about community expectations in Dunedin".

The design approved in the detailed business case was a bottom line, "not empty spaces that will get equipment ‘later’," he said.

The changes

Inpatient building design changes

 - 398 beds on opening and space set aside for 12 more. Previously promised: 421 (revised to 410, after it was realised there had been double counting).

 - 26 operating theatres and space to add 2. Previously promised: 28.

 - 2 MRI scanners and space for one more. Previously promised: 3.

 - PET CT scanner to be installed later.

 - Pavilion building and one link bridge between the inpatients and outpatients buildings will not go ahead.