Shelving hospital centre 'appallingly short-sighted'

The interprofessional learning centre. Atop the new Dunedin Hospital.
The interprofessional learning centre. Atop the new Dunedin Hospital.
Scrapping plans for a specific building where clinical students could learn right next door to the new Dunedin hospital is a step backwards, a former dean of the University of Otago Dunedin School of Medicine says.

Dr John Adams — who also previously chaired the clinical leadership group of doctors advising on the new Dunedin hospital — called dropping the planned interprofessional learning centre (ILC) "appallingly short-sighted".

Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand (HNZ), the University of Otago and Te Pūkenga announced late last week the learning centre had been dropped from plans for Dunedin’s health precinct, at least in the short and medium term.

While HNZ said $17 million remained set aside for the ILC in the new hospital’s budget, the budget for the centre had more than doubled over the past three years, from an estimated $50 million in 2020 to more than $130 million today.

Scrapping the ILC comes after the Government last year announced $90 million in cuts to address a budget blowout for the new tertiary hospital, which Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall then reversed by $10 million in April.

Now, Dr Adams said dropping the ILC compromised the quality of future health service provision, clinical education, and recruitment in the South.

When the process of planning the new hospital began there had been a learning centre within its footprint, he said.

However, it was removed from the plans in favour of the ILC.

The ILC would have provided clinical education space, skills training and simulation facilities for staff and students.

When the current hospital was built, 20% of its cost was related to education.

The "academic wing" was located next to the wards.

Some of that connection had been reduced over time, but in the current hospital there were still seminar rooms on every floor, he said.

The decision not to build the ILC represented a step backwards from modern trends as well as a step backwards from the integration that existed between the current hospital and the University of Otago.

"The concept ... [of an ILC] reflected the need for the ongoing integration of education and research and health provision and part of the worry is that that integration is much harder when there’s not a facility that promotes it."

Dr Verrall said yesterday the decision to not go ahead with the ILC, "which was a separate project from the new Dunedin hospital, does not affect healthcare provision for the people of Dunedin".

"Te Whatu Ora, the University of Otago and Te Pūkenga remain committed to interdisciplinary learning as a pillar of future health training programmes and will continue to work together to improve health education.

"The $17 million we allocated remains in the project should the views of support partners change."

The Government had shown its dedication to medical students at Otago by increasing the number of students from next year.

Dropping the ILC would not "impact or compromise the training for students who will still learn within a modern, future-focused health facility".

University of Otago acting vice-chancellor Prof Helen Nicholson said the disappointing decision to scrap the ILC was made by all three partners because of the financial pressure facing all of them.

"Like Dr Adams, we recognise interprofessional learning is key to modern health training and the proposed ILC would certainly have enhanced Dunedin’s reputation as a premier health science education centre.

"Consequently, the people of Otago and Southland would have also benefited from the ILC and the advances it would have created for modern healthcare.

"This is not a decision made lightly, but it is the fiscally responsible decision for all three parties at this time."

HNZ was unable to respond to questions from the Otago Daily Times by deadline yesterday.

Clinical leadership group chairwoman Dr Sheila Barnett said she would comment today.