Reusing old hospital floated before ILC scrapped

Dunedin Hospital has been struggling to retain staff. Photo: RNZ
Dunedin Hospital. Photo: RNZ
The current Dunedin Hospital is a "substantial set of buildings" that could be repurposed, ministers were told before deciding to scrap plans for a new medical education centre.

In May, ministers of health, finance and education agreed building the interprofessional learning centre (ILC) as part of the new Dunedin hospital complex would not go ahead.

In a report given to ministers it was suggested the old hospital could be used for medical education, an option that had previously been ruled out.

There were no plans for the reuse of the hospital once the new one was built, but this was suggested to the ministers as a solution, the briefing requested by the Otago Daily Times under the Official Information Act said.

"It is a substantial set of buildings that could be repurposed in a number of different ways."

Reusing the buildings for an ILC had previously been discounted because of "a delay in the provision of the new building and a slight loss of proximity to the new hospital".

The professional development unit (PDU) could continue to operate from the Fraser Building, the document said.

Further investigation was needed to determine how the buildings could be reused to support interprofessional learning.

"The timing of their reuse will align with the finishing of the new hospital, enabling the contractor workforce to transition if required."

A business case for the ILC, intended as a collaboration between Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand (HNZ), the University of Otago and Te Pūkenga, was set to be presented to the ministers this month, the document said.

However, the cost of the build had spiked from an estimated $50 million total in 2020.

"The capital cost of the ILC is now estimated at exceeding $140m, with additional operating costs at exceeding $71m over the life of the asset."

HNZ, the university, and Te Pūkenga were all under financial pressure, and HNZ was deferring projects across the country to stay within budget.

The report also noted the new Dunedin hospital budget blowout that had resulted in $90m of design savings being sought.

"The size and scale of the new Dunedin hospital is, and will continue to place, substantial pressure on the available contractor and subcontractor workforce in the South Island.

"Planning another substantial build will only serve to further drive cost escalation as the projects compete for the same workforce."

The three ministers signed their agreement that development of the ILC business case could be abandoned.

Work would continue to improve interprofessional education, and an ILC proposal could be reactivated in future.

There were "a great number" of non-capital solutions available in the short term, such as dual registration options and the alignment of degrees for different health professions.

The ILC had been intended as a space for the hospital’s PDU, university and Te Pūkenga health courses, and a simulation centre.

The three parties announced in June the ILC had been postponed indefinitely — a decision one clinician involved with its design described as "a generational opportunity loss".

Following the announcement, Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall said in the short term, teaching and learning would continue to be provided in the current hospital, where the University of Otago had lecture theatres and office space.

However, no longer-term plan was in place.

"The university and Te Pukenga will need to make decisions on their future educational space requirements."

The university said at the time existing spaces would be maintained to allow continued use, and a future plan would be made.