Retain neurosurgery, MPs told

Despite a suggestion last week that southerners could write to the Director-general of Health, Stephen McKernan, with their concerns about neurosurgery service plans, no letters have yet been received by his office.

Health Minister Tony Ryall, who made the suggestion in Dunedin last week, has received fewer than a handful of letters from people seeking to retain the Dunedin service.

The membership and terms of reference of the expert review panel to advise Mr McKernan on the impasse between the Southern and Canterbury district health boards over the future regional service are not likely to be announced until July 18.

South Island district health boards have agreed there should be a regional service with six neurosurgeons, but while Canterbury wants all six in Christchurch, Southern wants two living in Dunedin.

Dunedin-based National List MP Michael Woodhouse said yesterday he had received between six and 10 letters supporting retention of services in Dunedin.

Doctors and others he met on the street were grateful for his support on the issue.

"The minister and I are both of a similar view. It is an important decision and one best made with all of the information and ideally, the support of clinicians."

Questions which still needed answers from the review panel included the costs of the two options, the logistics of air ambulance travel under the one-site model, and the effect on clinical training for some specialists, undergraduate training for medical students and any downgrading of the status of Dunedin Hospital's intensive care unit.

Dunedin South MP Clare Curran said dozens of constituents had raised concerns about the issue with her verbally and a few had sent letters.

People feared the South was becoming a backwater and that the one-site proposal would clearly disadvantage patients and the medical school.

Dunedin North MP and former health minister Pete Hodgson, who has previously lobbied for retaining the Dunedin service, was out of the country and could not be reached for comment yesterday.



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