Panel head in Dunedin today for talks

The Auckland-based head of the controversial panel helping decide the fate of neurosurgery in the South will be in Dunedin today talking to health leaders.

Dr Anne Kolbe will meet senior representatives of the Otago Medical School and the Southern District Health Board.

Because the Southern and Canterbury District Heath Boards failed to agree on how South Island neurosurgery will be configured, former director-general of health Stephen McKernan appointed an advisory panel led by the Auckland paediatric surgeon.

Southern hackles have been raised by an independent report's suggestion all six South Island neurosurgeons be based in Christchurch.

A protest march from the Octagon to Dunedin Hospital is planned for Friday, while a public meeting has been called for tomorrow at 5.30pm in the Dunedin Town Hall.

In a prepared media statement released by the Ministry of Health, Dr Kolbe said she was "completely open-minded" about how the service should be organised.

Public opinion would be taken into consideration, she said.

"I realise that this is a significant issue for the people of the South Island and one of the first things we will be discussing will be how to obtain constructive public input."

As a first step, Minister of Health Tony Ryall, and the Ministry of Health, had been asked to summarise the material received from the public.

Dr Kolbe said she hoped people would consider not just where the service was delivered but how it was funded and governed.

"It is very important that whatever we end up with is clinically and financially sustainable and is able to support effective training, including Royal Australasian College of Surgeons accredited neurosurgical training.

"Equally important are equity of access and equity of outcome for those using the service."

It was pleasing there was agreement about the single service concept, she said.

"The one constant is that the South Island DHBs have agreed that there will be one service.

"Beyond that, I want to listen to people's ideas about how to make it work."

Dr Kolbe said she hoped the panel's terms of reference would be completed by the end of this week, and that the panel could start its work next week.

The panel would probably spend days in both Dunedin and Christchurch.

It aimed to present its report to the Director-general of Health by mid-October.

Dr Kolbe said it was important to remember the panel would not be undertaking a review of existing services.

"I don't want to re-litigate what has already happened."

Last week, Dunedin Hospital intensive care clinical leader Mike Hunter raised concerns about the perspectives of Dr Kolbe and panel member Glenn McCulloch, an Adelaide neurosurgeon, given they were both "big city" clinicians.

He also questioned the impartiality of Mr McCulloch because of alleged comments made about Dunedin Hospital neurosurgery at a medical convention in Australia, which Mr McKernan said had been misinterpreted.

Dr Kolbe is head of the clinical school at Auckland University and a former president of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

Consumer rights advocate David Russell is also on the panel.

A Ministry of Health spokeswoman said Mr Ryall's office had received "thousands" of letters on the Dunedin neurosurgery issue, while the ministry had received "hundreds".

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