Key says Govt aware of backlash

The Government was aware there would be "implications" if the outcome of the neurosurgery process upset people, Prime Minister John Key said in Dunedin yesterday.

However, Mr Key, guest of honour at the 2010 Otago Daily Times Class Act awards, insisted the independent neurosurgery panel must be able to do its job without politicians interfering.

On stage, he indulged in banter with Otago Daily Times editor Murray Kirkness, who is helping spearhead the campaign to keep neurosurgery in Dunedin.

A public outcry has erupted in the South over a proposal to locate all South Island neurosurgeons in Christchurch.

After the ceremony, Mr Key stressed the panel had to be able to follow proper process to reach its recommendations.

However, he said: "If it's not the outcome people want, obviously we realise there will be implications."

It was too soon to consider the implications before the panel had made its recommendations.

Southerners' "passion and concern"about neurosurgery was highly evident, and was not lost on politicians.

Asked whether as Minister of Tourism he was concerned injured people from New Zealand's "adventure capital", Queenstown, could be hours further away from neurosurgical services, Mr Key said tourism issues were "valid concerns" for the panel.

Asked for his personal view, Mr Key said it was not for him to have or express a personal view.

Mr Key acknowledged the issue had been raised several times during his visit to Dunedin. It appeared people were following the right course, making their opinions and feelings known to the neurosurgery panel, he said.

During their speeches congratulating recipients, Mr Key and Mr Kirkness traded quips on the matter.

Mr Kirkness said he hoped some budding neurosurgeons were among the high achievers honoured yesterday.

Mr Key, in turn, said the question was not whether there were neurosurgeons, but whether they were "ones that work in Dunedin".

Later, Mr Key joked Mr Kirkness, an Australian, might be made an honorary New Zealander if he secured Dunedin two neurosurgeons, to which Mr Kirkness replied, "What do you mean if?"

Mr Key also hinted at a positive outcome for the South, telling Mr Kirkness "you don't want to unwrap all your packages in one day".


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