No parties willing to promise hospital budget reversal

No political party is providing a commitment to reverse the $90 million of design cutbacks to the new Dunedin hospital.

Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich sent letters to politicians on March 1 asking for a commitment to delivering the new hospital as promised prior to changes announced by the Government in December.

The call drew a range of responses, from National MPs critical of the cuts to Labour MPs saying they were "bemused" by opposition to sensible changes and suggesting the mayor focus his attention on more important hospital-related issues.

But while Opposition leader Christopher Luxon expressed concern , he could not commit to reversing the changes.

Mr Radich’s appeal followed the Dunedin City Council’s unanimous vote to undertake a campaign expressing "extreme concern" at the alterations.

"Being an election year, the people of the South deserve to know the stance of their elected members of Parliament regarding the most important health resource for their regions," he wrote.

"I seek your commitment, should you and your party be elected, to delivering the new Dunedin hospital and full suite of services as promised in the Detailed Business Case."

The $90 million worth of design cutbacks, in conjunction with $110million of additional funding provided for in Budget 2022, are the Government’s answer to a $200 million budget blowout on the project.

Changes include the loss of the staff-focused pavilion building, one link bridge between the inpatient and outpatient buildings, and fewer operating theatres — 26 rather than 28.

When the hospital opens, it will also have fewer beds, two MRI scanners rather than three, and no PET CT scanner.

However, shell space has been provided for the beds and scanners to be installed at a later date.

Labour MPs Rachel Brooking, Ingrid Leary, Rino Tirikatene and David Clark sent a combined response stating they were "a bit bemused" by the mayor’s opposition to what they said were sensible changes.

They were happy to commit to delivering all services as promised, they said,

"The savings announced in December save the taxpayer money but do not reduce services, at all."

The majority of the savings were made by making the hospital design more efficient and shifting some functions off-site, they said.

A smaller portion was saved by deferring spending through use of shell space.

"This does not result in the reduction of any services. It merely delays the provision of extra capacity until that capacity is needed."

The private sector would provide a PET scanner for the area before the hospital opened in 2028, they said, and the only real cut in the package was the reduction in theatres.

However, this was not a service reduction because of the shift towards longer surgical days and more efficient equipment.

"We think there are other things that you, and we, should be a lot more concerned about."

This included IT capacity at the new hospital, adequate training and recruitment of health workers, and the approval and funding of the interprofessional learning centre.

Christopher Luxon said the reduction was disappointing, and National supported the rebuild.

However, it needed a full disclosure of all current and projected costs, timelines and budget projections before any commitment could be made.

"It is not at all unreasonable to have the same full financial and risk information that the Government has when seeking financial commitment for this large project," he said.

The party was committed to the people of the South, he said.

National Dunedin list MP Michael Woodhouse, a member of the Cabinet that approved the Indicative Business Case for the hospital in 2017, said the decision to reduce beds, operating theatres, radiology services and non-clinical spaces was a disservice to the people of the Southern region.

The Labour Government had committed to the capacity approved in their business case, he said.

"I will continue to advocate for Labour to progress the hospital rebuild consistent with that business case," he said.

A response on behalf of Act New Zealand Party leader David Seymour and deputy leader and health spokeswoman Brooke van Velden said the hospital should progress as originally planned unless the underlying circumstances had fundamentally changed.

The project was an example of how the government did not have the resources or expertise to be construction project managers, the response said.

The Greens and Te Pāti Māori did not respond.

An Official Information Act request for a savings breakdown was sent by the Otago Daily Times to Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand (HNZ).

The relevant document was withheld three weeks ago by HNZ on the grounds that it would "soon" be publicly available.

It has not yet been released and HNZ has not specified when this will occur.