No comment from Govt over hospital concerns

Andrew Little. Photo: RNZ
Andrew Little announced $90 million of "design changes" for the hospital in late December. Photo: RNZ
It could be the middle of the month before Government ministers respond to southern leaders calling for an urgent meeting contesting cuts to the new Dunedin hospital.

A Government spokeswoman said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Health Minister Andrew Little had no comment at this stage and would consider the request for a meeting about the recently announced $90 million cut on their return from leave.

The offices of most ministers would reopen from January 16, she said.

Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan, Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher, Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich and Otago Regional Council chairwoman Gretchen Robertson, who called for the meeting on Tuesday, were joined yesterday by Invercargill Mayor Nobby Clark, who told the Otago Daily Times he had given the group his support.

However, support among southern mayors is not unanimous; Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan declined to give his support yesterday as he wished to speak to leaders in the public health sector first.

Bryan Cadogan said with ministers on holiday the timing was "frustrating", but he wanted to remain positive.

Time was crucial as inflation was causing the budget to blow out and delays to the project would only exacerbate the issue.

He hoped the meeting would take place this month.

"Whenever it is, we’ll take our opportunity."

Other southern leaders had also informally indicated they would support the call, he said.

As well as requesting the urgent meeting, the group would individually write to their local MPs and Government ministers about the cuts.

The push to stop the cuts due to the potential impact on the entire lower South Island follows $90 million of "design changes", announced by Mr Little five days before Christmas.

He announced $110 million in additional funding to address a $200 million budget blowout, with the cutbacks to make up the difference.

The design changes include a reduction in hospital beds to 398, 12 fewer than planned, and fewer operating theatres - 26 rather than 28.

If the cuts go ahead, the hospital will open with two MRI scanners rather than three, and no PET-CT scanner.

The pavilion building and one link bridge between the inpatient and outpatient buildings will also not go ahead.

Mr Clark, said he had recently told Mr Little that the framework central government was using for Dunedin Hospital was the same used for Southland Hospital when it was built nearly two decades ago.

"Given that we’ve already got a shortfall in Southland, how are we going to get on if you start calling back a couple of theatres out of Dunedin and a number of beds there, because that’s often the place where our patients get transferred to when we get to capacity locally."

Southland’s shortage of general practitioners, its ageing population and a shortage of nurses already put pressure on local health care, and Dunedin Hospital was a necessary resource, he said.

"My personal view is that if we’ve got money to spend on plonking $20 million into COP[27] in Egypt recently, and for climate change and other initiatives that they’ve done, then they should have money in the tax take for keeping the population healthy."

- Additional reporting by Ben Tomsett