Nurses support service

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation has come out in support of retaining neurosurgery services in Dunedin, saying the implications of a Christchurch-only service for acute patients from the southern area are grim.

• Otago unit's No 1 supporter

• English breaks silence

And retired neurosurgeon Samir Bishara says people need to stand firm and make their views known about the possibility of losing neurosurgery services in Dunedin.

Losing the service would put some lives at risk and be the beginning of downgrading the hospital, which would also threaten the University of Otago and its medical school and the wellbeing of the city itself.

Without a neurosurgery service, Dunedin Hospital's status as a teaching hospital would be inferior to the three other teaching hospitals in New Zealand, he said.

Mr Bishara, who officially retired in 1998 but has been providing some supervision of locum neurosurgeons covering the Dunedin service since Suzanne Jackson left at the beginning of last year, said he fully endorsed the stand taken by the Otago Daily Times in its front-page editorial on Saturday.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation's (NZNO) industrial adviser, Glenda Alexander, said members were concerned the service might be lost to the city.

"If neurosurgery services are closed at Dunedin Hospital, patients will be required to travel or be transported for very long distances.

"Costs will increase and patients will be needlessly endangered," Ms Alexander said.

Patients' isolation from their families was another concern.

She and NZNO organiser Lorraine Lobb pointed out the flow-on effects which could result from losing the service.

These could include unemployment for health professionals, financial stresses for families, lower enrolments in schools and less money in the local economy.

Ms Alexander and Ms Lobb were involved in a peaceful protest in the late 1990s at Dunedin Hospital when local health services were under threat.

At that protest, members of the public formed a protective ring around the hospital.

Ms Alexander said no similar action had been formally planned at this stage.

She praised Southern District Health Board chief executive Brian Rousseau for his action to employ two neurosurgeons.

"I think that's pretty cool if he's been able to find people with proper qualifications and got their agreement to come."

Ms Alexander said people were " coming out of the woodwork" who might in other circumstances be on opposite sides.

That showed the importance of the issue.

In comments on the "Keep Neurosurgery in Dunedin" Facebook site, Mr Bishara backs a regional service with two neurosurgeons in Dunedin and four in Christchurch.

"The Dunedin site is the smaller of the two sites but not a satellite.

Oxford and Cambridge are small cities but they both have neurosurgical units.

"The Dunedin site should be primarily responsible for the Otago, Southland and some of South Canterbury's population."

He considered an on-call roster where specialists would be available one weekend in three could be arranged with the co-operation of Christchurch in the two-site model.

Mr Bishara joined other clinicians who have expressed concern about the transportation times of acute cases from Invercargill or Central Otago to Christchurch, even in ideal weather conditions.

"To add to this the time taken for patient assessment and preparing for transport is rarely less than one hour.

In addition, in bad weather it would be impossible to fly transfer missions, with inevitable increase in mortality," he stated.

At the time of his retirement in 1998, Mr Bishara said he was a firm believer in closer co-operation between the Christchurch and Dunedin services for the benefit of the whole South Island.

He suggested that the service would eventually be a "one unit-two branch" system and felt there was no reason why the unit should not be based in Dunedin.


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