Regions reluctant on hospital campaign

Jim Boult.
Jim Boult.
Tepid support from some Otago councils for the Dunedin City Council's hospital campaign has not fazed the councillor leading the campaign.

Two mayors have called for health resources to be allocated fairly throughout the region.

The DCC wants Otago councils to back its Dunedin Hospital SOS campaign for a ''top-flight'' facility located in the central city.

District councils and the regional authority were asked to write to Prime Minister Bill English and Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman, to lobby them about the Dunedin project.

Gary Kircher.
Gary Kircher.
Rural hospital funding has been a sore point in recent years because the cash-strapped Southern District Health Board has tried to make cuts in some areas.

The DHB is the country's biggest by by geographic area, and has struggled to fund rural hospitals as well as a high-level hospital in Dunedin.

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said his council was still considering the lobbying request.

Mr Kircher has concerns about previous ''empire building'' in Dunedin, and said the needs of the University of Otago should not be a priority.

''It's probably a once-in-a-generation ... opportunity to really have a close look at all of the services, how they're delivered, and where they're delivered, to make sure we try to get as much equity in service delivery right across the region as possible,'' Mr Kircher said.

The important thing was Otago and Southland, not ''what's best for, say, the medical school''.

''Don't prioritise [the medical school]. It's about getting the best overall result for everyone.''

One of the arguments for a central-city build - as opposed to a greenfield site - is to retain close ties with the medical school.

''We want to have a successful medical school, but it needs to be in a way that benefits the wider community,'' Mr Kircher said.

He said there was scope to devolve more services in Oamaru, to eliminate some unnecessary travel to Dunedin.

Queenstown Lakes District Council has written a support letter for the DCC, but says a Dunedin-focused health model is ''not the only consideration''.

Queenstown Lakes is the fastest-growing part of the South.

Mayor Jim Boult's letter says the rebuild is an opportunity to look at the needs of the broader region.

''In this regard, the service delivery model may influence the form of the new hospital and there will be opportunities to take advantage of technology to provide services in innovative ways that are not necessarily tied to a hospital or based wholly in Dunedin.

''I would hope that in confirming the future of the tertiary hospital in Dunedin, the Government through the DHB would also consider ways of strengthening and enlarging service delivery in the Queenstown area and the Upper Clutha, which are all experiencing growing demand for health services,'' the letter says.

The Clutha District Council has given the campaign its full weight. In its letter, Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan expressed support for Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull's call to end uncertainty about the future of Dunedin Hospital.

''First and foremost, the lower South Island needs a strong, modern medical facility in Dunedin and the patience of the wider populace has come to an end.

''It is absolutely untenable that after years and years of discussion we now find ourselves right back where we started, discussing location.''

It was ''blindingly obvious'' the hospital needed to be close to the medical school and city/university hub to be practical, he said.

''I appreciate this is a huge project and we have to get it right, but the present rate of progress is leaving the public frustrated, confused and increasingly worried about the issue.''

In a letter on behalf of Central Otago councillors, Mayor Tim Cadogan said it was important the link between the medical school and the hospital remained intact.

The Otago Regional Council has lent its support, but some council members, including chairman Stephen Woodhead, urged caution about pushing the case too strongly, because there is a process to go through.

''These wider public campaigns can be captured at times by emotion and the factual information that sits underneath for a decision gets lost,'' Mr Woodhead said earlier this month.

The DCC has been accused of playing partisan politics by three of its own councillors and National list MP Michael Woodhouse. Mr Woodhouse lashed out at the council after the campaign launch last month.

''It's clearly been started by a former Labour MP who's now a councillor, supported strongly by present Labour MPs who see an opportunity to create a win and proclaim some kind of forcing of the Government's hand when nothing could be further from the truth,'' Mr Woodhouse said last month.

Cr David Benson-Pope, who is leading the campaign, said he was not concerned about the reservations being expressed.

''Am I surprised that local people are making speeches that protect the interests of their own patch? Of course not.

''I fully understand why people right throughout the region are concerned about healthcare.''

Building a top-flight hospital in Dunedin would have no adverse impact on health facilities in other centres, he said.

The campaign had strong support and about 2400 people had emailed the Government in its campaign's first four and a-half weeks.


The people of Waitaki, Southland and Central Otago already face traveling to obtain services. If they have to travel to Christchurch or Auckland to get service in the future is probably moot to them.
Unfortunately for Mr Woodhouse, he is playing diversion for a government which has strongly signaled their intentions of severely reduces services available in Dunedin. It is also semi tough for him in defending the gutless refusal to admit what plans the government have BEFORE the election. The Nationals refusal to show their hand just proves Dunedin will lose. Just how much is lost remains to be seen.

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter