Verrall rushes south to address Dunedin hospital fears

On just her second day as the Minister of Health, Dr Ayesha Verrall flew to Dunedin to visit the site of a contentious subject, the city’s planned new hospital.

It was a priority to visit because the hospital build in the central city was an important project and she was aware of significant local concern, Dr Verrall said.

"I came to listen and understand the concerns," she said.

The Government has been under sustained pressure to explain, justify or scrap design changes, or cuts, announced just before Christmas.

Discussing the new Dunedin Hospital construction project on site yesterday with Minister of...
Discussing the new Dunedin Hospital construction project on site yesterday with Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall (right) are (from left) programme director Tony Lloyd, project director Michael Higgs and Taieri MP Ingrid Leary. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
A projected $200million escalation in costs was dealt with by increasing the budget by $110million and finding "design efficiencies" of $90million.

The Dunedin City Council this week voted unanimously to establish a public campaign to make clear the council "will not accept changes that reduce the long-term capacity of the new Dunedin Hospital, or that compromise in any way the clinical services available to residents of the city and the wider region".

Dr Verrall said the project team remained ambitious about how much could be achieved.

Her itinerary included meeting Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich, Invercargill Mayor Nobby Clark and Dunedin city councillor David Benson-Pope.

"We emphasised again we want to see the new Dunedin Hospital delivered as promised, to the design specified in the detailed business case," Mr Radich said.

The Otago Daily Times asked city councillors if they had a message for the health minister.

Cr Steve Walker was sure there would be further substantial cost increases during the project.

"I’d like an absolute, water-tight assurance from the minister that in the event of further and inevitable cost escalations, that there is to be no repeat exercise around hospital redesign with the sole purpose of saving money," he said.

Cr Mandy Mayhem said the healthcare system was stretched.

"Cutting back on the original plan and design is in no way acceptable," she said.