ICU expansion delays just keep on coming

Michael Woodhouse
Michael Woodhouse
The three-year-long saga of Dunedin Hospital’s unfinished and much-needed intensive care unit expansion seems set to continue until 2024.

It will also likely cost the Southern District Health Board more than the $14.8 million budgeted after the board approved capital expenditure to try to make functional a heating and ventilation system which has stubbornly refused to operate as required for the ward to work properly.

The problem-plagued upgrade to Dunedin Hospitals critical care services should have been opened by March 2019, and by April 2021 the SDHB believed it was still another 18 months away from being operational.

Now, almost another year after that, the SDHB on Wednesday approved further expenditure to fix issues with the building’s ventilation system.

The money was signed off during the public-excluded part of the meeting and later confirmed by a board spokeswoman.

She said the board was working to an "approximate" 18-month timeframe for completion.

"No ‘opening’ date has been confirmed as the work is being undertaken in a fully operational hospital, which means the project must be phased."

The litany of problems which have afflicted the ICU upgrade was raised in Parliament a fortnight ago by Dunedin-based National list MP Michael Woodhouse, who said the facility still not being open was scandalous. Yesterday, he said it "beggared belief" that the facility might now not be open until after the urgent need for it had passed.

"Also, the longer they leave it, the closer we are to getting a new hospital in any event, so I think that is an outrageous timeframe."

The SDHB does have consent to use the ICU extension in an emergency, such as if it was inundated with Covid-19 patients, but given the ventilation system is not able to perform appropriately would prefer not to do so.

Stage one of the ICU upgrade, a 12-bed, fully modernised ward was officially opened in November 2018, although issues with the ventilation meant it was not fully in use until early the following year.

Stage two, offering a further 10 beds, was meant to open in mid-2019, but for that space the need for the air to be exchanged 14 times an hour was one demand too many on an old ventilation system which a former board decided to detune several decades ago as a cost-saving measure.

Engineers have since struggled to figure out how to make an estimated 17 ventilation systems in the building work so as to allow the air exchanges to happen properly and various options, including building a dedicated ventilation system for that part of the building, have been considered.

Mr Woodhouse said the continual delays needed to be explained.

"That will be five years since the extension was completed, even if they meet their own timeframe and they have managed to miss every single one of them so far."

As a former hospital administrator, Mr Woodhouse said he knew how complicated such work could be, but he was lost for words at the delay on this project.

"Why on earth has it taken so long and why on earth does it need to take so long now? This asks more questions than it answers."


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